Union hosts Rube Goldberg contest Saturday

Publication Date

Dozens of area middle and high students will put on their thinking caps to try and build a machine that can plant a tree on Saturday, April 9, when Union hosts the 11th annual Rube Goldberg Engineering Competition.

Between 9:30 and noon at Memorial Fieldhouse, 19 teams will compete in this year’s theme, “Putting Down Roots.”

The contest is named for the late Rube Goldberg, an engineer and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist. His cartoons, depicting “inventions” that epitomized “man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results,” appeared in thousands of daily newspapers between 1914 and 1964.

In keeping with that theme, the contest involves making simple, ordinary undertakings unnecessarily complex and convoluted. It takes a two or three-step task, like planting a tree, and asks participants to create machines to accomplish that task in at least 20 steps.

Past contests challenged students to build a machine that could open an umbrella, draw a smiley face and catch ping pong balls.

James N. Hedrick, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is the contest chair. The competition is coordinated by the Engineering program. Other event sponsors include GE Volunteers, KAPL, Bechtel and the Schenectady Museum.