A contest which originally started as a friendly competition between the Triangle and Theta Tau fraternities has steadily grown from its origins in 1949 and now includes competitors from all over the United States.
The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest draws teams who make overly-complex contraptions that go through a large number of steps to complete a simple task. Points are given to teams that embody the whimsical spirit of late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, for whom the contest was named. This year’s task was to zip a zipper. In years past, other competitions made teams complete anything from shredding five sheets of paper to making a cup of coffee.
This year’s five teams were Purdue’s Association of Mechanical and Electrical Technologists, the University of Illinois’ Rube Goldberg Society, Purdue’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers.
Designs by each group were elaborate and varied, ranging from a Despicable Me theme by the University of Illinois to a whimsical nighttime contraption by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The winner was Purdue’s own Society of Professional Engineers with a design that was as intricate as it was interesting. In addition to winning first place, the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers also took the People’s Choice Award.
“It was very unique,” said Zach Umperovitch, chairman of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest and graduate student in geology and geophysics. “Since my time as a chairman I worked closely with all the teams and their designs. They gave me the design early September and I thought it was great. They had to abide by certain specifications and if they could pull it off, which they certainly did, I thought it would be a real game-changer.”
According to the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest guidelines, the finished structure is to be no longer than six feet on any side and can’t have a maximum run time that exceeds two minutes. The minimum number of steps is 20, but teams easily surpass that number.
“We build the machine and then count the steps once everything is working,” said Adam Bahrainwala, Purdue Society of Professional Engineers Rube Goldberg president. “Our design process is very fluid in that we pick and choose from things we learned about in class or saw online.”
Benjamin Hilker, a sophomore in electrical engineering and treasurer of the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers, joined in the 2012-2013 season after seeing the team’s earlier machines on the History Channel. Hilker quickly learned that constructing machines of this complexity often requires an apt eye for details.
“Our greatest challenge will be ensuring that the machine is reset precisely and quickly. We also have to keep an eye out for any piece on the machine that appears to be loose or broken. We have to be diligent to make sure that everything flows smoothly,” Hilker said.
The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers will be advancing to the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, which will take place in Columbus, Ohio at the Center of Science and Industry on April 12.