Northland News

Celebrating the needlessly complex

Northland High School students ready for Goldberg Contest


Rube who?

That's probably what some members of the Northland High School STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Club asked when advisers Sybil Y. Brownand Teri Keller proposed they enter their first Rube Goldberg Contest.

Nevertheless, they will be among 20 teams from throughout Ohio, five of them in Columbus, competing March 2 at COSI.

By now, as they put the finishing touches on their cunning contraption, the young people might know that Reuben Lucius Goldberg was a San Francisco-born cartoonist and sculptor. Goldberg, who received a bachelor of science degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1904, had a 55-year career drawing single-panel cartoons for newspapers. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948.

"His drawings, using simple gadgets and household items already in use, were incredibly complex and wacky, but had an ingenious, logical progression to them," according to the Rube Goldberg Contest website. "Goldberg's inventions became so widely known that Webster's Dictionary added the term Rube Goldberg to its listings, defining it as 'accomplishing by extremely complex, roundabout means what seemingly could be done simply.' In the words of the inventor, the machines were a 'symbol of man's capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results'."

The 2013 challenge for Rube Goldberg Contest teams around the country is to create a machine that will hammer a nail.

While that sounds simple, it must be complicated.

The machine has to accomplish this task in a minimum of 20 steps, said Brown, chairwoman of the math department at Northland High.

And, added co-adviser Keller, the machine has to hammer the nail in less than two minutes.

"Their strategy is to start from your end result and work toward the beginning," Keller said.

Past contest challenges, according to the website, have included screwing a light bulb into a socket in 1993, sharpening a pencil in 1989, shredding five sheets of paper in 2005 and assembling a hamburger in 2008.

While crafting a piece of machinery to hammer a nail in 20 steps or more might be fun for the seven or eight STEM club members out of between 50 and 60 taking part in the March 2 contest, it also involves a lot of learning, according to Brown.

"First of all, teamwork, problem-solving," she said.

Outside mentors in the fields of carpentry, engineering and construction have visited with the students to help nudge along the project, Brown said.

The young people are also involved in the design process and project management, Keller added.

"They're learning work ethic from that, as well," she said. "They're trying to implement what our mentors teach them from the corporate world.

"They make a lot of progress each time we meet. Northland always goes for the gold."

"We actually started right after winter break," Brown said. "We started brainstorming ideas.

"I'm hoping to finish in the top five. Since this is our first year doing it, we really want to get them engaged."

What has grown into the Rube Goldberg Contest for students across the country traces its origins to Purdue University in 1949, when members of two engineering fraternities developed their own version of a Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. It died out six years later, only to be revived by members of those same fraternities in 1983, according to the website.

The first National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was launched in 1988.