Ultimate Burger Machine Claims Rube Goldberg Prize
Using a 156-step recipe for perfection, the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers earned the top spot in the 21st annual national Rube Goldberg Machine
Contest. This year’s task was to assemble a hamburger consisting of no less than one precooked meat patty, two vegetables and two condiments, sandwiched between two bun halves.
The Purdue team’s machine had a global travel theme. The machine’s journey started at Purdue and continued around the world to England, France, Germany, China, Mexico and ended back at a tailgating party at Purdue, where the hamburger was made.
More than 1,500 people attended the event which took place on April 5, 2008, at the Purdue Armory. The competition is sponsored by Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, and rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity. Machines must complete the assigned task in 20 or more steps.
The contest’s namesake is the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. Winning machines must complete two successful runs, and points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started. Judges award points based on the creative use of materials, team chemistry, flow of machine and the theme of a machine.
Drew Wischer, captain of the 17-member Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team and a senior in aviation technology from Cedarburg, WI, said that after the team’s victory in the February 2008 regional Rube contest, the members added steps and worked many additional hours to perfect the machine for the national competition.
“We put 4,000 to 5,000 man-hours into this machine since September, and all the hard work has been well worth it,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling to have gone from a brand new team last year to winning the nationals this year.”
The second-place Texas A&M team, which drove for two days to get to the competition and barely missed tornadoes south of Little Rock, AK, had a “burger construction crew” theme. Their 98-step process started with a groundbreaking ceremony with a team member scooping gravel. The theme is carried through the steps with a “controlled demolition” that burst a balloon advertisement, a giant cable spool and a high-line worker falling into an outhouse. It was the team’s third year at the competition.
“The task is a lot more complicated than last year,” said team captain Sean Moya. “Last year, we weren’t constrained as much in the steps. The cards played right this year, and everything came together.”
The University at Buffalo captured third place in its first year at the national competition. Buffalo’s 40-step machine, which featured a chemical-reaction volcano, took between 200 and 300 hours to build. Fernekes said the competition was a learning experience for his six-member team.
Other teams competing this year were Ferris State University, Big Rapids, MI; Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI; Penn State University Brandywine, Media, PA, and the University of Texas-Austin.
“This year’s machines were very impressive and demonstrated a great deal of ingenuity, creativity and teamwork,” said Mike Mierzwa, Theta Tau’s national contest co-chairman and a junior in nuclear engineering from Morris Plains, NJ. “It’s evident that all of the competitors have put a lot of work into this, and that results in a terrific contest for the teams and the audience.”
Previous contests required students’ machines to squeeze the juice from an orange and then pour the juice into a glass; select, clean and peel an apple; make a cup of coffee; toast a piece of bread; put a stamp on an envelope; and drop a penny into a piggy bank.
Contest Video Coverage (3:34 min) www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8DjQ2DXs7s
Rube Goldberg www.rubegoldberg.com
Rube Goldberg Contest at Purdue news.uns.purdue.edu/rube/rube.index.html
Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, Theta Tau www.rubemachine.com