i-f7cb9c3c08cdc7544d7e33734be6a5d6-rube.jpgRube Goldberg is the inventor of the Mouse Trap … the better mouse trap that is…

He was actually a cartoonist who made famous the Rube Goldberg machines, which were increcibly complicated, intricate devices to do something simple in as many unlikely steps as possible. The board game “mouse trap” is based on this concept. I have a vague memory or Rube Goldberg being featured on a PBS TV show called “The Great American Dream Machine” … must have been some time before his death in late 1970. Anybody remember that?

Anyway, there is an annual compeition for the Rube Goldberg Prize that has just been completed, and won, as it usually is, by the the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers. This is the third time if four years that Purdue has won this contest, beating out Texas A&M and The University at Buffalo, earning second and third place respectively.

The task at hand this years was to assemble a hamburger with at least one precooked patty, two veggies, and two condiments.

The 17-member Purdue team used 156 steps in its machine, which 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.

Drew Wischer, captain of the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team and a senior in aviation technology from Cedarburg, Wis., said after the team’s victory in the February 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.”

Wischer has been in the Rube Goldberg competition for eight years, which includes time in high school and at Purdue. He will graduate in May and leave his Rube career behind.

“These guys are just excellent. It’s such a great group to work with, and I couldn’t think of a better way to go out,” he said. “Even though I’m a pilot, I love to build things and am a ‘backyard engineer.’ It’s been a great experience to work with engineers for so many years in this competition. I love it.”

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers won the national contest in both 2005 and 2006, and Ferris State won the 2007 national competition.

The second-place Texas A&M team, which drove two days to get to the competition and barely missed tornadoes south of Little Rock, Ark., had a “burger construction crew” theme. The 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, even surprising team captain Tom Fernekes.

“We were a little nervous coming here because we saw the videos online and knew it would be tough competition,” he said. “I’m really proud of our team. Everything worked as planned. It ran as well as it could have today.”

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.

“If we had spent a little more time on developing a theme and built in a little more complexity, I think we could have done better,” he said. “We’re just happy to be here, but next year I can definitely see us being much more complex, and we hope to get a second or first place.”

Other teams competing Saturday were Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich.; Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Mich.; Penn State University Brandywine, Media, Pa., and the University of Texas-Austin.

The competition, sponsored by Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity. Machines must complete the assigned task in 20 or more steps.

“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, N.J. “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.”

The National High School Rube Goldberg Machine Contest followed the Purdue national competition awards ceremony at the Purdue Armory. The high school event was coordinated by the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau.

Pekin (Ill.) Community High School placed first, Bayfield (Wis.) High School placed second, and Thorp (Wis.) High School took third place.

Other teams competing in the high school contest were Alan B. Shepard High School, Palos Heights, Ill.; East Jordan (Mich.) High School; Kouts (Ind.) High School; Lanesville (Ind.) High School; Mackinaw City (Mich.) High School and Maumee (Ohio) High School.

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.

Sponsors for this year’s event were BAE Systems, Bosch Group Inc., Bose Corp., Daimler-Chrysler Corp., Fluor Corp., General Electric Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Omega Engineering Inc. of Stamford, Conn., Priio and Rockwell Collins Inc. Purdue’s College of Engineering and College of Technology also supported the event.

In previous contests, students’ machines were required 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. Winners have appeared on television shows internationally, including CBS’ “This Morning,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” NBC’s “Today,” “Newton’s Apple,” “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” the Fox News Network and CNN. Purdue’s national competition winning teams from the past two years have been featured on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

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