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January 14, 2003

Rube Goldberg machine contest teams to test 'can-do' spirit

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Theta Tau Fraternity's 21st annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University on Saturday, Feb. 15, will display an environmental "can-do" spirit.

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This year student teams must build a machine that can select, crush and pitch a 12-ounce aluminum can into a recycling bin in at least 20 steps.

The competition pays homage to the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks.

The Purdue local contest begins at 11 a.m. at the Cumberland Place Exhibition Center in West Lafayette, near the Purdue campus. Teams will set up their machines in the morning and the public will be allowed into the exhibition center at 10:30 a.m. The contest is free and open to the public. The winning team will represent Purdue on Saturday, April 12, in the national contest, which also will be in West Lafayette.

The winning machines must complete two successful runs said the local contest chairman Josh Sandler, a sophomore in computer engineering from Buffalo Grove, Ill. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started. Teams also will be judged and awarded points based on the creative use of their materials and related themes.

"This year's contest should be fun and visual with the recycling and environmental theme," Sandler said. "From what I've seen and heard thus far, this year's task has certainly generated some creative and interesting concepts."

Eight teams of Purdue students are participating in this year's local contest, Sandler said.

The Purdue Chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers team won last year's local contest with their "Mission to Mars" machine, which used 50 steps to secure, raise and wave a national flag over a miniature Martian landscape.

The University of Texas at Austin team's tribute to the heroes of Sept. 11 captured the 14th annual national contest in April, narrowly beating Purdue and two other teams in the competition to raise and wave the American flag.

In previous contests, students' machines have been required to 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 "Late Night With David Letterman," CBS' "This Morning," ABC's "Good Morning America," NBC's "Today," Newton's Apple" and CNN.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Journalists are welcome to cover the contest. Photos and video from last year's contest are available, including a photo of last year's winning team at Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage and direct audio and video feeds on the day of the event. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. Video b-roll, photos and a news release will be available the afternoon of the contest, as well as a satellite uplink. If you have questions, contact Grant Flora at the Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2073,

Writer: Grant Flora, (765) 494-2073,

Sources: Josh Sandler, regional Rube Goldberg Contest chairman, (765) 743-2461 ext. 879,

Willie Karashin, national contest chairman, (765) 743-2461 ext. 865,

Related Web sites:

Theta Tau Fraternity Web page:

Purdue News Service Rube Goldberg page:


Members of the Purdue Chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers team celebrate their victory in last year's local Theta Tau Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University. Their winning machine, titled "Mission to Mars," used 50 steps to secure, raise and wave a national flag. The team represented Purdue in the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. (Purdue News Service file photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page