Ferris State University’s Wink Arena welcomed Rube Goldberg Machine Contest competitors from area high schools Saturday, February 12. The five student teams presented machines of their own design and enjoyed a sneak peak of the Ferris College of Engineering Technology team’s machine for the 2011 college competition.
Tasked with creating a machine that uses more than 20 steps to complete the simple task of watering a plant, participants from Columbia Central High School, East Jordan High School, Grace Baptist Christian School, Lakeview High School and Rockford High School provided inventive designs with a variety of themes - from recycled materials to wooden toys. In the end, Rockford’s team, the “Rockin’ Rams,” took home the top prize with a machine that used 29 steps. The Rockford team will now have the opportunity to return to the Ferris campus and compete against high school teams from across the United States at the national high school competition on March 19.
Tom Hollen, chairperson of the regional and national high school events, is also the Ferris team’s coach for the college competition. He explained he values the confidence Rube Goldberg contest participation inspires in local students at the high school and college levels. “My favorite part of the contest is success and recognition for local students,” he said. “Even though our schools may be smaller, our students’ education is so good that they can compete at the national level.”
The event also provided a preview of Ferris’ 2011 college competition entry, which is operational but not yet complete. Expected to water a plant in approximately 100 steps, the Ferris machine features a haunted house theme and an unexpected twist: It automatically performs a 180-degree turn in the middle of its sequence of chain reactions. Ferris team members Jennifer Kempel of West Branch, Tyler Koroleski of Hudsonville, Ben Peltier of Mesick, Jory Smith of Hemlock and team captain Bryan Williams of Lupton have worked for about four hours per week on the machine, which is based on Williams’ original design concept. In the building process, each Ferris team member has also added something of his or her own to the collaborative effort. “Basically, everybody puts what they want into it, and it comes together at the end,” Peltier explained.
“It’s cool to get it all set up, and then, when it actually works, you feel really good about it,” Kempel said as Koroleski demonstrated the switch he engineered to make the machine automatically revolve. The contest, celebrated for its encouragement of teamwork and creative problem solving, holds a special challenge for this year’s Ferris team, which looks to reclaim the national college prize that its predecessors won in 2007.
“The Rube Goldberg competition is a wonderful opportunity for students and teachers to collaborate on problem-based learning,” said Ferris President David L. Eisler, who attended the competition. “We’ve watched this program grow at FSU and received great recognition for it. It is wonderful to host [the high school] event on campus.”
The idea for the annual contest, which began at Purdue University in the 1940s, came from the comic drawings of Rube Goldberg, which feature overly complex machines designed to perform simple tasks in a chain reaction of mechanical steps. The national college event is highly competitive: Ferris’ 2010 team won a Guinness World Record title for the largest functional machine, and the Purdue team has scored a three-year winning streak in the recent past.
Ferris will try to bring home the top prize once again at this year’s national collegiate competition, hosted by Purdue University on March 26, 2011. For more information on the contest, visit www.rubemachine.com.