On April 9th, COSI in Columbus again hosted the annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, and EWI staff were on hand to serve as judges. Inspired by the work of American cartoonist, humorist, and inventor Rube Goldberg, the competition provides an opportunity for high school and college students to build machines to complete a pre-determined task. Now in its 28th year, the contest rewards complexity, absurdity, and creativity in design. Students apply skills from engineering, physics, and chemistry, but are also encouraged to use their abilities in art, theater, and design. The end result is a machine that takes the simple task of opening an umbrella and turns it into an entertaining demonstration of inventiveness.
This year’s college competition drew teams from all over the United States. Perennial entrants Purdue and Penn State were joined by teams from Tennessee, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Santiago Canyon College, who traveled 2,300 miles to enter the contest! The event was judged by museum staff and other technical experts including EWI Associates Ruth Sunderman, Linda Holmes, Paul Zelenak, Sam Lewis, Brandon May, and myself. Team entries included a superhero-themed machine, as well as a “mad scientist” laboratory, a tribute to Nikola Tesla, and a machine documenting the “world’s worst vacation” featuring a flood, avalanche, and Godzilla attack. In the spirit of the competition, all teams took at least 20 steps to complete their task, with some taking as many as 74!
The winning team from the University of Wisconsin-Barron County created a tribute to Nikola Tesla and his life’s work. Components of the machine included a hydroelectric power station on Niagara Falls, Tesla’s rudimentary X-ray technology, an animated flock of birds, and racing electric cars that ultimately triggered the umbrella that shielded “Nikola” from an impending rainstorm. The second-place team, Purdue University’s Professional Society of Engineers (PSPE), honored the tradition of Rube Goldberg by taking 74 steps through a hardware store, coffee shop, and city park before completing their assigned task.
To find out more about the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, visit: rubegoldberg.com/Contest To see what EWI engineers do when they’re building machines instead of judging them, visit our Design, Controls, and Automation group at ewi.org/technologies/design-controls-automation.