Popping a balloon is a simple, one-step process, right? Just get a pin and puncture the rubber. But what if this process has to involve at least 15 steps and take no less than 90 seconds to complete?
Engineering is often based on efficiency and simplicity. But the famous Rube Goldberg type of machine turns this paradigm upside down — The more complex the machine and the greater number of steps it takes to make it, the better.
Although this seems counterproductive there might be something to learn from finding the most arduous, unsophisticated solution to a problem.
UC Davis’ Theta Tau chapter, the co-ed professional engineering fraternity, will be holding their annual Rube Goldberg Competition on Picnic Day. The event will take place at noon in the Ghausi Hall lobby. The competition is open to both high school and college students.
Fred Padron, a member of Theta Tau and this year’s competition coordinator, explained that the point of creating the machine is to learn how physics and engineering work and to help gain people’s interest in engineering.
“We want to promote innovation and creativity in the field of engineering by implementing the basics and inspiring students of all ages to pursue a career in engineering,” Padron said.
Rube Goldberg machines, such as the board game Mouse Trap, purposefully make accomplishing a simple task – like popping a balloon or watering a plant (last year’s task) — an over-engineered marathon of moving parts, all connected together like a game of Dominos.
This year, teams will build a machine that is no greater than 6 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet with 15 steps that will work together to pop a balloon in no less than 90 seconds. The theme for which teams will base their machine is “Life is a circus.”
Padron hopes this annual competition will familiarize students with the potential that engineering has to offer.
“At the event each team will have a chance to tell the audience how they built their machine and the engineering behind it,” Padron said.
Rebecca Ragazzon, a senior mechanical engineering major, is a member of “Team Legit” who will be competing in this year’s competition. She said the first thing her team did was to figure out how to incorporate the theme and work from there.
“We started by looking at the goal and seeing how we could choose a cool theme and decided to go with the movie ‘Up.’ We tried to incorporate as much from the movie as possible; including a floating house and different characters from the movie,” Ragazzon said. “We are pretty resourceful, so our machine has simple [objects] such as spoons or random school supplies.”
Ragazzon said that as they were building their Rube Goldberg machine they did not have a specific plan in mind, but their trial and error method actually worked in their favor.
“Not having a specific plan allowed us to build around our foundation and make the most of the space available. It really made the project more fun and encouraged us to think more out of the box,” Ragazzon said.
Toshihiro Kuwayama, a graduate student in the civil and environmental engineering department, took second place in last year’s competition as part of team “For the joy of uni and other things too.” His best advice for this year’s competitors is to start early and be creative.
“We built our entire machine out of wood for our theme ‘Go Green,’” Kuwayama said. “Remember to start early so you can test your machines over and over again because one mistake can cost you the game.”
The competition and machines are named after Rube Goldberg. Originally an engineer, educated at Berkeley, Goldberg later became a cartoonist and is best known for his cartoons depicting complex gadgets that perform simple tasks in the most complicated way possible.
Rube Goldberg competitions have been going on since the late 1980s. Each year the national Theta Tau chapter hosts a national competition at Purdue University in the spring with colleges from across the country attending. Theta Tau hopes the event will bring entertainment and be able to show how exciting the field of engineering can be.
CLAIRE MALDARELLI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org