Society of Engineering Science wins top honors at regional Rube Goldberg contest

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Society of Engineering Science (SES) won first place at the 2015 Penn State Regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on Saturday (Feb. 28).

The annual competition challenges students to use innovative ideas, unconventional problem-solving skills and a little humor to design a machine that completes a simple task in a complex manner. This year’s national challenge is to design and build a machine that erases a chalkboard in 20 or more steps.

The SES machine’s theme was “Holidays throughout the School Year.” The team also won the People’s Choice Award.

SES team captain Greg Risser, a junior in engineering science, said that for him, the most enjoyable part of competing in this year’s contest was the hands-on experience.

“It was fun to build each step and then watch how all the steps came together at the end,” Risser said.

He added that, as with most projects, there were some challenges along the way. “When a step didn’t work, we would really have to think outside the box to find a good solution or alternative,” he said.

The SES team also included: engineering science juniors Sarah Masters and Yaman Trivedi; sophomores Ibrahim Al’Abri and Ryan McFadden; and first-year engineering students John Bernstein, Dan Henderson, Chris Klarides, Claire Rosenberger, Rebecca Terosky and Matthew Wehner.

Second place went to the Penn State Harrisburg chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Their theme was “Out of this World.”

Team captain Zachary Light, a senior in mechanical engineering technology, joked that the most difficult part of building the machine was finding Christmas lights after Christmas.

The rest of the team members were: mechanical engineering seniors Christian Aquino, Lewis Mills, Shaynia Guerriero and Nicholas Hunt; engineering sophomores David Poole and Carly Taubenkraut; and first-year engineering students Samantha Heisey and James Then.

The Penn State University Park chapter of ASME placed third with their machine, “Toy Story Junkyard.”

Mechanical engineering junior and team captain Anne Pauley, who has competed in two previous Rube Goldberg regional contests, said part of the reason her team chose the Toy Story theme is because it’s “fun to see the kids in the audience get excited about the machine.”

ASME University Park also included: mechanical engineering senior Bridget Burt; mechanical engineering juniors Anthony Bond and Nick Kneier; engineering sophomore Kevin Li; and first-year engineering student John Barczynski.

Other contestants in this year’s regional contest included the Chinese Undergraduate Student Association, the Engineering Leadership Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The competition, now in its 10th year at Penn State, is sponsored and judged by the Penn State Engineering Alumni Society.

Teams were scored on two runs of their machine based on the following criteria: spirit of Rube Goldberg, reliability, repeatability, task completion and communication and teamwork. Points were deducted for rule violations and out of bounds objects.

The first-, second- and third-place teams receivee a trophy and $300, $200 and $100, respectively.

In addition, SES and ASME Harrisburg are eligible to represent Penn State at the Division III Live World Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, held at the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, on March 28.

The contest is named after the late artist and cartoonist Reuben Lucius Goldberg, who created cartoons in the mid-1900s that combined simple machines and common household items to create wacky contraptions that accomplished trivial tasks.

Goldberg’s “Inventions” cartoons became so well known that Webster’s Dictionary added the term “Rube Goldberg” to its listings, defining it as “accomplishing by extremely complex, roundabout means what seemingly could be done simply.” Additional information is available online at

Last Updated March 02, 2015