For the past five years, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers has claimed the top prize in the annual Penn State Regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. This year, their reign of inefficiency came to an end.
By building a machine that required 24 steps to zip a zipper, the Engineering Leadership Society left the Nittany Lion Inn on February 15 with a trophy, $300, and a trip to the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio on April 12, 2014 to represent Penn State in the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest.
“The whole point of Rube Goldberg is to do something in literally the least efficient way possible,” says Dan McGarry, the team leader for the project. “It’s really fun, it takes a lot of creativity, and it’s kind of a way to get away from that engineering attitude of doing things in the most efficient way possible.”
McGarry said a team of about 15 members started designing and building the machine in Hammond building about a month or so prior to the event. They chose the theme of “A Day In The Life Of A Child” to represent this year’s contraption, using a combination of toys, simple machines, and Spongebob and Sesame Street characters to make a truly unique Rube Goldberg masterpiece.
“When you’re picking a theme, you want to go for something you can make comical, entertaining, fun for families and kids, so we thought “Day in the Life of a Child” would work well with that,” he explained.
Inspired by a contest between two Purdue University engineering fraternities at the 1949 Engineer’s Ball, the National Rube Goldberg Machine Competition was held in 1988. In the spirit of Rube, the goal of the very first competition was to build a machine that puts toothpaste on a toothbrush in the most ridiculous, round-about way possible.
While it may seem complicated, McGarry promised there were no calculations or math that went into the design. However, he did say it helped to have an engineering mindset to be able to think creatively.
“It does take engineering in the sense that you need to be able to come up with ideas and fix problems when they come along with the machine,” says McGarry. “Lots of stuff happens when you’re building that you don’t anticipate, so you just need to be ready to be a problem solver.”
To prepare for nationals, McGarry says the team is looking to improve the design and appearance of the machine, as well as add a few more steps. Increasing the complexity and the time it takes to for the machine to zip the zipper will be looked upon favorably by the judges.
“We already have a game plan for what we want to do to prepare for it, which we’re already starting to get to,” says McGarry. “It’s very exciting for the organization as a whole to be making this step.”