Last month, COSI in Columbus hosted the annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. 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 60th 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 a simple task and turns it into an entertaining demonstration of inventiveness.
This year’s high school competition, with teams from all over Columbus and central Ohio, was judged by museum staff and other technical experts including EWI Associates Kimberly Gibson, Brandon May, and myself. Team entries included more than one schoolroom-themed machine as well as a “big city” machine, a tribute to Alice in Wonderland, and a machine recognizing “Pi Day” (the date of the contest, March 14th) featuring a fully equipped kitchen with a pie baking in its oven. In the spirit of the competition, all teams took at least 20 steps to complete their task, with the winner taking 64!
The national college competition was held at COSI two weeks later. The collegiate teams offered very creative designs and themes involving zombies, movies and aliens. The winning team from Purdue University’s Professional Society of Engineers (PSPE), created “a day in the life of Rube Goldberg” who had lost a new cartoon that he had made. The contraption started with the pouring of a cup of coffee and walked Rube through his daily activities (like shining shoes, getting the mail out of the mailbox) until he had found the item he misplaced. EWI Associates Kimberly Gibson, Linda Holmes, and Tim Lastrapes assisted in judging the entries.
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.