Engineering Leadership Society wins Penn State Rube Goldberg Contest

Curtis Chan
February 17, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Engineering Leadership Society (ELS) came away with the top prizes at the 2014 Penn State Regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at the Nittany Lion Inn on Feb. 15.

The ELS won first place overall and the People's Choice Award.

"It means a lot," commented Dan McGarry, a sophomore in biomedical engineering and ELS team leader. "We've been working crazy hard to win this and it all paid off."

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

Second place went to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) University Park chapter. The ASME Penn State Harrisburg chapter won third place.

The ELS moves on to represent Penn State at the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on April 12 at the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio.

To prepare for nationals, McGarry said the team will look to add a few more components to their "childhood memories" themed machine. "We also have to tune up every step we have and be more consistent."

Other participants in this year's regional contest included the Chinese Undergraduate Student Association, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Society of Energy Engineers from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

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

The contest was comprised of three rounds. Each team was eligible to enter two of its runs to be judged. If a machine malfunctioned during a run, team members were permitted to void that run before it finished, requiring the other two rounds to be entered for scoring.

The Rube Goldberg Machine 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

  • Dean views Rube Goldberg Machine

    Engineering Leadership Society team leader Dan McGarry, right, walks Engineering Dean Amr Elnashai through his team's Rube Goldberg machine.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • IEEE Rube Goldberg machine

    The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers team's theme for its Rube Goldberg machine was "waking up late."

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • SHPE Rube Goldberg machine

    The Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers decided to go with a global theme for their machine, opting for a World Cup motif.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Rube contest wide shot

    Seven teams competed on Feb. 15 for the opportunity to represent Penn State at the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest later this spring in Columbus, Ohio.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Cookie Monster

    Rube Goldberg machines often consist of everyday objects. This Cookie Monster doll was a part of the Engineering Leadership Society's childhood-themed machine.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Chinese Undergraduate Student Association

    The Chinese Undergraduate Student Association was one of seven teams from across the University to participate in the 9th annual competition.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • ASME Harrisburg

    The American Society of Mechanical Engineers team from Penn State Harrisburg incorporated a number of toy vehicles in their machine. The team ultimately finished third in the contest.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • ASME University Park

    The University Park chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers used a Tarzan theme for their machine.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Kids love Rube Goldberg
    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated February 18, 2014