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UA Rube Goldberg Machine Is Complete Disaster!

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UA Rube Goldberg Machine Is Complete Disaster!

Feb. 22, 2013
UA Rube Goldberg Machine Is Complete Disaster!

Rube Goldberg machines are deliberately overengineered contraptions that perform simple tasks in a very complex way and usually include chain reactions. They are named after Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg, who died in 1970 at the age of 87.

Members of the UA Rube Goldberg club, aka Hindentech, in front of their machine (left to right): past president Chris Cantoni, materials science and engineering; Daniel Wilcox, chemical and environmental engineering; Jessica Flannery, civil engineering; Janet Kinsey, secondary mathematics education; Claire Tritz, biosystems engineering and hydrology; Gabe Wilson, computer science; club president Alberto Martin-Adan, undeclared engineering.

To design this year's machine, club members styled themselves as a fictitious global engineering conglomerate called Hindentech. "We make terrible inventions," said Alberto Martin-Adan, club president and engineering sophomore. "Our company motto is 'close enough.'"

This year's machine is more like a series of disasters waiting to happen. It has one simple task to perform: to make a hammer hit a nail. But the long and perilous path to achieving that task involves a nasty lawnmower accident in a kitchen, a space exploration mission that blows up the moon, and a volcano that destroys an off-road vehicle. And there's a pirate in there somewhere, too.

"We've been working on it every weekend since last summer," Martin-Adan said. "That's six months work to build a machine that takes about a minute to complete its task."

The club will debut its machine at the Engineers Week Rube Goldberg competition Feb. 23 at noon in Crowder Hall on the UA campus. Although several other machines will be in the E-Week competition, the Hindentech machine is the only one that will be going on to the national competition March 30 in Columbus, Ohio.

A series of unfortunate events. This happy kitchen worker comes to a grisly end as the UA Rube Goldberg club's contraption sets off serial disasters just to bang in a nail.

At its first national competition in 2012, at Purdue University in Indiana, the club was awarded the Rube Goldberg Legacy Award for its inventive machine, Wilma Wildcat and the Restless Restroom.

Rube Goldberg's granddaughter, Jennifer George, presented the award, which is given for a machine that best incorporates humor with critical thinking. Wilma Wildcat's shower scene was popular with competition attendees because it actually looked like a bathroom, complete with a real toilet, shower and sink, a spider and a scurrying rat.

Last year's team president, Chris Cantoni, a materials science and engineering senior, has been advising and mentoring the club's members. The speed of the machine, he said, was a key design challenge. "The shower machine was very fast and hard to follow – it was over in about 40 seconds," Cantoni said. "This year it will be about double that. It's loud and people will notice. We want to engage the audience, and the judges of course."

Rube Goldberg machines have more than a few critics who say the devices are frivolous rather than proper engineering. No one in the UA club agrees with that, of course, and the club continues to grow. In the last year the UA team has doubled in size to 22 active members, about half of whom are freshmen.

"It's not a toy. It's not just for fun," said new club member Claire Tritz, a freshman studying for a double major in biosystems engineering and hydrology. "We use cheap and recycled material and parts and adapt them to work. It's about examining functionality and seeing how to adapt it. Engineering is about building new things, about change."

Other club members agree that building a Rube Goldberg machine as a team can teach important engineering principles. "If you can make something more complicated, then the opposite is true," said Jessica Flannery, a civil engineering freshman. "It helps you understand how to make things simpler." It also teaches design and presentation skills, and teamwork, she said.

Although club membership is on the rise, regional participation could use a boost. The UA team got a pass from the regional competition straight to the national finals because no other regional teams registered.

"It's mostly a Midwest thing," said Martin-Adan. "But we want to promote it in the West and Southwest." His immediate goal is to raise enough funding to take a dozen club members to the national final in Ohio, where they can learn more about the art and engineering of Rube Goldberg machines, and implement that knowledge back home in the Southwest.

"We are hoping our success last year will improve our chances of getting funding," he said.

To help raise funds, the club is holding a percentage night on Saturday Feb. 23 from 11 a.m., right after the E-Week competition in Crowder Hall, until 10 p.m. at The Fix, 943 E. University Blvd. The club will keep a portion of the restaurant's earnings for the day.