Engineering Leadership Society wins Penn State Rube Goldberg Contest

Leadership students win first place, People's Choice Award at regional machine competition

The 2014 Penn State Rube Goldberg Machine Contest challenged student teams to design and build a machine that could zip a zipper. The Engineering Leadership Society team ultimately won first place and the People's Choice Award. Credit: Curtis Chan / Penn StateCreative Commons

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."

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Last Updated February 18, 2014