ASME wins fourth straight title at Penn State Rube Goldberg contest

February 13, 2012

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) swept the Penn State Regional Rube Goldberg Contest for the fourth year in a row, winning first place overall and the People's Choice Award, on Saturday afternoon at the Nittany Lion Inn Ballroom. In addition to winning a trophy and cash prize, ASME earned the chance to represent Penn State at the national competition held on March 31 at Purdue University.  

Four teams representing four engineering student organizations competed in the contest. They were challenged to use innovative ideas, unconventional problem-solving skills and a little humor to design and build a machine that inflated and popped a balloon in 20 or more steps.

The ASME, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the Society of Engineering Science (SES) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) were all represented in the contest, which was sponsored by Penn State Engineering Alumni Society and judged by engineering alumni.

The SES placed second in the overall contest, followed by the IEEE in third place.

The competition comprised of three rounds and the teams ran their machine in each round. The teams then entered two of their three runs to be judged. If a machine malfunctioned during a run, team members were permitted void that run before it finished, and the other two rounds were automatically entered for scoring. All of the teams except IEEE voided in the first round due to malfunctions.

Between the rounds, the Engineering Ambassadors, an engineering student organization focused on community outreach, gave presentations about simple machines and the magic of engineering while the competitors reset their machines for the next round.

All four the teams used the intermissions to make adjustments or full repairs on their machines before the next round. SHPE ran into trouble soon into their first run. ''I think one of our motors got caught and hit the floor instead of the ball,'' Michael Joyce, a mechanical engineering junior, told the team as they moved around the machine looking for what went wrong. ''We'll figure it out before the next round,'' Joyce assured them.

Each machine completed the task in about a minute, but the teams put significant time into building their machines. Erik Bergstrom, the team captain from the IEEE, said the team started planning in late October and building their machine in January. ''We worked four to eight hours per week this semester, which is about 150 man hours spent building our machine,'' the electrical engineering senior said.

Although the machines aimed to accomplish the same objective, they varied in style as each was designed around a unique theme, ranging from Pokémon to carnival and music to kitchen. SES team captain Alan Githens said the team chose their carnival idea because they wanted a universal theme that everyone could relate to. ''There are also of different components that could be recreated for the machine and it was really fun to decorate'' the engineering science senior explained. The rollercoaster on their machine was a favorite among the children in the audience.

Boasting an actual kitchen sink, ASME stayed true to their kitchen theme and took 45 steps to complete the task. They worked on the machine for three hours twice a week throughout the semester to try to repeat their first-place finish from last year.

''It feels great to win again,'' team captain Adam Last said upon hearing the results.

He said that the regional contest served as a good test run for nationals. ''For the next month we will obviously be fixing everything that went wrong today so it is perfect for nationals,'' the mechanical engineering senior said. ''We will also catch up on some sleep and rest,'' he laughed.

The entire team will head to the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University at the end of March. ASME placed second at the national competition in 2011.

The contest is named after Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, Reuben Lucius Goldberg, who drew cartoons that combined simple machine parts and household items to create contraptions that accomplished simple tasks in a laughable number of excess steps. Although he never built any of his machines, Goldberg's creative thought process and innovation have become an inspiration to engineers and scientists all over the world.

For photos of the event, go to More information about the event is available at:

  • Adam Last, team leader for Penn State's American Society of Engineers project group, initiated the start of his teams Rube Goldberg machine entitled 'The Kitchen.' For additional photos, click on image above.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated February 13, 2012