Incredible Watering Machine comes to Life with Full Moon
|The Westing Estate includes a church, mine shaft, gazebo, gardens, water pump and water wheel, two catapults and about two dozen steel ball tracks.|
For the second year in a row, a team from University of Wisconsin-Stout is the national collegiate champion of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. This year’s national challenge, which drew about 2,000 spectators, was to water a plant.
UW-Stout’s entry topped 10 other teams on March 26, 2011, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. Penn State took second, and the University of Texas third in the 24th annual event.
UW-Stout’s machine, dubbed “The Westing Estate,” achieved its goal in 135 steps while telling the story of a deserted Louisiana estate whose ghosts come to life with the full moon. The Westing Estate includes a church, mine shaft, gazebo, gardens, water pump and water wheel, two catapults and about two dozen steel ball tracks.
UW-Stout got off to a rocky start. Its first run had to be voided because of a set-up error. On its second run, one intervention was needed. The machine’s third and final run was flawless. This year’s competition was only the second time Wisconsin-Stout has competed
“To even have a shot at winning, we knew we had to have a perfect third run, and we got it,” said co-captain Andrew Behnke, a senior from Loyal. “Our whole team was excited. Everybody was jumping up and down.”
“Our machine was the best looking the contest has ever seen, in my opinion,” Behnke said. “We had some really cool, complex steps.”
Immediately after the competition, a machine built by a Purdue team completed a flawless run of 232 steps, surpassing the world record held by Ferris State University. Purdue’s Society of Professional Engineers/Society of Hispanic Engineers team will submit a video of the run to Guiness World Records for certification.
The Rube Goldberg competition challenges students to create a machine that turns a simple procedure into something complex. Machines must have a minimum of 20 steps and be a standard size. Machines are judged on creativity, complexity and functionality.
Teams have three tries to complete two runs. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started.
The event is named after an early 20th century engineer and cartoonist, whose whimsical work spoofed modern machinery. Rube Goldberg specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. He earned a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1904. He worked as an engineer for the city of San Francisco for less than a year before becoming a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his political cartoons published by the New York Sun.
The theme of Penn State’s machine was one of the university’s football games. Sprinklers watered the field. The University of Texas machine traced the cycle of water.
“The competition was good. We thought we might place second, with a 25 to 30 percent chance at winning,” said Behnke, a marketing and business education major.
Other team members are co-captain Ian Billings, an early childhood education major from Loyal; Neal Belcher, a retail merchandising management major from Park Falls; and Jacob Shultz, an applied science major from Chetek.
UW-Stout advanced to the national by winning a regional competition in South Dakota. Behnke estimates that team members spent 2,000 hours making the machine, beginning in June.
Last year, UW-Stout entered the national event for the first time and won with an ancient Egyptian-themed machine.
Other teams competing were from St. Olaf College of Northfield, MN; Ferris State University of Big Rapids, MI; University of Illinois; Washington State Community College; Virginia Commonwealth University; Genesee Community College of Batavia, NY; and Texas A&M University.
On display during the contest was the machine from New Auburn, WI, which won the national Rube Goldberg High School Competition on March 19 at Ferris State University. New Auburn has just 350 students in grades K-12 but has won the national high school contest three times. Its machine had a Toy Story theme.
Jennifer George, Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter and legacy director of Rube Goldberg Inc., attended the competition. “I’m thrilled to be here. It’s incredibly exciting,” she told the audience. “I know my grandfather is here in spirit.”
She announced that the task for next year’s contest will be to blow up and then pop a balloon. It also was announced that Rube Goldberg Inc. will begin a virtual online machine contest for middle school students next school year.
The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest dates back to 1949 when it began as a competition between two Purdue fraternities. It was held until 1955, then revived in 1983 and opened to all Purdue students. The first national contest was held in 1988.
Sponsors for this year’s competition were BAE Systems, Omega Engineering, Lockheed Martin, Rockwell Collins, Alcoa, Priio and Ethicon Endo-Surgery.