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2009 ASME team members pose with the machine. Top row: Marc McClendon, Travis Hampton, Tom Yu, Zoheb Noorani, Alex Oddo. Bottom Row: Todd Bilderback, Jonathan Helfand, Austin Taliaferro and Brandon Boyle.

2009 ASME team members pose with the machine. Top row: Marc McClendon, Travis Hampton, Tom Yu, Zoheb Noorani, Alex Oddo. Bottom Row: Todd Bilderback, Jonathan Helfand, Austin Taliaferro and Brandon Boyle.

Theta Tau hosted the 2009 Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 in the Taylor Room of the ETC Building and a large crowd was in attendance to see the four teams compete with their elaborate, complex light bulb-changing contraptions.

Contest and Contestants

The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest (RGMC) is in its 13th year of success in the Cockrell School of Engineering. The teams participating in the 2009 competition are as follows: Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Society of Women Engineers and an independent, Tyler Luce, a Mechanical Engineering junior from Hondo, Texas.

Civil Engineering senior Michele Mohon began the event at 6 p.m. after the four teams set up their machinery and made last-minute adjustments. The first team to compete was the ASME team. Team members include: Brandon Boyle, Zoheb Nooruni, Jonathon Helfand, Xuejian Tom Yu, Todd Bilderback, Alex Oddo, Marc McClendon, Austin Taliaferro and Travis Hampton. Their machine ran successfully on the first try.

The second team to run was the Theta Tau team, using a Six Flags Over Theta Tau theme was made up of the following students: Ben Martinez, Oam Yamajinda, Ryan Farrell and Chris Hunt. Their machine worked successfully on the second try.

Katie Maass, SWE representative with their machine.

Katie Maass, SWE representative with their machine.

The third team to compete was the SWE team, which had only one member, Katie Maass, in attendance. Her design partner Charlotte Whitehead (Civil) wasn't able to be there. Their machine had to have an assist each time, as a small train kept getting derailed as it was going down a metal ramp. With the assist, the machine worked.

The fourth competitor was the one-man independent competitor, Tyler Luce, who had the largest and most elaborate machine entered in the competition, under the theme Jurassic Park. He made the project by working on it a little each weekend beginning in September. He used mainly recycled materials that had been dumped at a construction site. After a consult from the National Rube Goldberg Chair at Purdue University over some a few design issues, the judges confirmed Tyler Luce and his Jurassic Park themed machine to be the 2009 winner. Tyer Luce will go on to represent the Cockrell School of Engineering in the national contest held at Purdue University in April.

The results were:

  1. Tyler Luce, Jurassic Park theme
  2. Theta Tau, Six Flags Over Theta Tau theme
  3. ASME, Conveniently Placed Masses as a Source of Alternative Energy
  4. Society of Women Engineers, Keep America Beautiful theme

Jurassic Park Rube Goldberg Machine Step List

Tyler Luce explains his machine.

Tyler Luce explains his machine.

  1. The nitrogen release valve is opened
  2. The nitrogen flows through the pipe into the DNA research center and deflates the balloon
  3. The excess nitrogen gas flows down the vent tube and out the top of the volcano
  4. The balloon lets down the ramp which drops the "egg" into the chute
  5. The catch bucket at the bottom of the chute is lowered by the weight of the "egg"
  6. The egg holder is lifted by the catch bucket
  7. The second egg rolls down the widening ramp
  8. The widening ramp drops the egg down the drainage pipe
  9. The egg then sets off the mouse trap 1
  10. The Mouse trap 1 pulls the rope connected to the tire stop from under the RV's wheel
  11. The RV rolls down the hill and off the cliff
  12. The falling RV rotates lever 1
  13. The Lever 1 then rolls the round weight off its rest
  14. The round weight pulls the rope
  15. The rope turns the lake drain valve releasing the waterfall
  16. The waterfall turns the waterwheel
  17. The waterwheel winds up the rope connected to the gate switch
  18. The gate switch turns and sets off mouse trap 2
  19. The Mouse trap 2 pulls out the gate release pin
  20. The weight of Jurassic Jeep opens the gate
  21. The Jurassic Jeep drives down the hill knocking the "boulder" into the sinkhole
  22. The Jurassic Jeep also trips the electric box switch disabling power to the gate lights and perimeter lights
  23. The "boulder" rolls through the sinkhole and down the high wire ramp
  24. The "boulder" knocks out the perimeter light support
  25. The perimeter light falls on lever 2
  26. The Lever 2 rotates lifting up the pipe
  27. The pipe pushes the "coconut" off the tube and on to the ramp
  28. The coconut rolls down the ramp sending adventure man down the zip line
  29. Adventure man travels down the zip line setting off mouse trap 3
  30. Mouse trap 3 pulls up on a rope connected to the power grid switch turning on the LED panel and LED lights in the main building
  31. Simultaneously, the coconut falls down the wire chute into catch bucket 2
  32. Catch bucket 2 pulls on twine that passes through pulley 1 which dislodges the support rod
  33. The unsupported weight then falls setting off mouse trap 4
  34. Mouse trap 4 pulls out the swinging gate pin
  35. The swinging gate relapses the wheels down the ramp
  36. he wheels fall off into the counter weight catch
  37. The counter weight catch pulls on a rope that passes through pulleys 2, 3 and 4 and lifts the helicopter
  38. The helicopter picks up the landing pad revealing the LED panel
  39. The wheels are stopped by the steel supports


The department thanks the judges for volunteering their time to the project. The judges were Kelly McQuery, Academic Advisor in Chemical Engineering, Ben Hodges, Associate Professor from Civil Engineering, Billy Wood, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, and a representative from Lockheed Martin, Christopher Garland, F-35 Flutter Analysis, STOVL Variant Lead.

Rube Goldberg machine

A Rube Goldberg machine is an apparatus which performs a simple task in an overly-complex way. Such machines are named for American engineer and cartoonist Rube Goldberg in honor of his cartoon series which depicted such machines. He stated that his machines were "a symbol of man's capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results."

The Task

The task for this year's contest was to replace an incandescent lightbulb with an LED bulb in 20 steps or more. The competition hopes to finally answer the question, "How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb?" More details, including contest rules may be found on Theta Tau's website.

The university has a good reputation in the contest. It has placed quite high every year, including a national win in 2002.

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