'Indiana Jones'-inspired machine wins Penn State Rube Goldberg contest

Indiana Jones found a way to outrun his competitors at this year's Penn State Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Feb. 27, at the HUB-Robeson Center's Alumni Hall.

This year's contest challenged teams to build a complex machine that dispensed an appropriate amount of hand sanitizer into a hand. Each machine had to complete a minimum of 20 steps -- the wackier the better -- in less than two minutes.

The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is named after cartoonist Reuben Lucius Goldberg, who created cartoons that combined simple machines and common household items to create complex contraptions that accomplished trivial tasks.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) team and their Indiana Jones-inspired machine took first place at the competition. Drew Taylor and Mike Yanek, both seniors in mechanical engineering, led the group.

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the Engineering Club from Penn State Brandywine and the Society of Engineering Science (SES) also competed.

The teams were judged on two separate runs of their machine by members of the Penn State Engineering Alumni Society, which sponsors the event. Teams were able to void one of their runs and compete in a third round.

ASME's machine had a whopping 52 steps, rotated during its runs and mimicked aspects of the Indiana Jones movies. Team members even dressed up as Indiana Jones for the start of each run. The machine completed its first run in one minute and 18 seconds and its third run in one minute and two seconds.

"It felt great to win," said Ben Clark, a member of the ASME team. "I was worried coming into the contest because up until this morning, our machine had not completed a perfect full-run, but it all worked out."

SHPE placed second in the competition and Penn State Brandywine placed third.

SHPE's jungle-themed machine, "Hand's Free Sanitizer Dispenser of Wonder and Magic" featured a waterfall, boat and foot pedal and had two successful runs. The first run completed 28 steps in 27 seconds and the second run in 24 seconds.

The Penn State Brandywine Engineering Club, last year's runner up, designed their machine around characters from The Simpsons animated television series. Rather than using premade hand sanitizer, Penn State Brandywine's machine mixed the ingredients as part of its overall process. The machine completed 25 steps in 59 seconds during both runs.

First-time competitor SES experienced some difficulties with their Winter Olympics 2010-themed machine. The contraption featured many scientific concepts and it completed its second run in two minutes and 50 seconds and its third run in one minute and 47 seconds.

ASME also won the People's Choice Award, which was voted on by audience members.

"We really had a great team this year and that's what made it all come together," said ASME's Taylor.

The mechanical engineers received $300 and a trophy, and will represent Penn State at the National Rube Goldberg Contest at Purdue University on March 27.

Clark explained that before heading to the national contest, the team will make some minor modifications to the machine's design and possibly add some more aesthetic appeal.

The national event is hosted annually by Theta Tau at Purdue University. This "Olympics of Complexity" is designed to pull students away from conventional problem-solving and push them into using their imagination and intuitive thought.

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Last Updated March 08, 2010