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Spring 2003 - Team

Destination Purdue > Spring 2003 - Team

Team crushes the competition

By Ann Dougherty

Greg Franzer

Photo provided by the Purdue News Service

Team co-captain, Greg Franzer, starts the ball rolling on the Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho Rube Goldberg machine.

The coin flipped, a football flew through the air, a basketball hit nothing but net, and the bowling ball crushed the can as it dropped into the recycling bin. The first run for the Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho team's Rube Goldberg machine was a smashing success.

The 21st annual Rube Goldberg Machine contest, hosted by Theta Tau fraternity's Purdue University chapter, drew nine teams of engineering students and a few hundred spectators on a blustery February day. Each team built a machine that could crush an aluminum can and place it in a recycling bin in 20 steps or more. In past years, contestants built machines to open a lock, peel an apple and shut off an alarm clock.

The Purdue contest is based on cartoonist Rube Goldberg's machines, which used a ludicrous number of steps to perform simple tasks. The contest originated at the height of Goldberg's popularity in 1949 but ended in 1955 as interest waned. It was reinstated when Purdue's Theta Tau fraternity members became curious about an old trophy from the original contest. Now, Theta Tau hosts not only the local Purdue contest but a national contest in April as well.

The Rube Goldberg contest provides an opportunity for engineering students to apply the theories they learn in the classroom through the design and development of their machines.

Rube Goldberg used his cartoons of complex machines to poke fun at technology's "simplified" gadgets that were supposed to make life easier and instead made it much more complicated.

Agricultural and biological engineering students are eligible to participate in this competition. The Society of Women's Engineers' team captain Ann Markwell, a sophomore in electrical engineering from Plainfield, Ill., said construction of their machine, which started in December, was a good extension of their classes.

"It applies a lot because (engineering's) all about being able to work with a team and solve problems," Markwell said. "There's also a tangible result which is more rewarding." The Society of Women Engineers' machine transported the can through world landmarks before finally being crushed by Purdue Pete's hammer.

This year's winners were the Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho team, whose machine worked for the first time at the contest. Their sports theme was a popular one with the audience, as they also won the People's Choice award. The machine included the Purdue football field and basketball court, among other sporting venues. The team members also wore referee shirts to emphasize the sports theme.

"We chose sports because of the ease of keeping it themed and because balls rolling are an easy way to set things off," said Jen Watson, team co-captain and senior in aerospace engineering from West Lafayette, Ind. The Theta Tau/Phi Sigma Rho team advanced to the nationals held at Purdue in late April 2003. After two more successful runs, the team claimed the national championship.