Students take (many) steps to bring world of Rube Goldberg to life
For several months, high school students across Philadelphia have been trying to figure out the most complicated way to erase a chalkboard.
On Saturday, they will show their work at the Philadelphia Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, the first of what organizers hope will be an annual academic competition.
Earlier this week, a team at Northeast High School in Philadelphia worked on its machine after school. The teenage engineers dropped a green golf ball into a length of duct tubing, such that it will land in a Styrofoam cup below, which should pull a string that triggers a precariously balanced wooden armature to release a second ball into a track, which triggers another sequence and another until, ultimately, it erases a chalkboard.
It didn’t work.
"I think the ball just disappeared," said a despondent team member. The golf ball immediately stuck in the flexible ribs of the duct tubing, which was not angled steeply enough.
So, they tried it again.
"Damn it!" a cry went up, as the ball bounced away from its target. "So close!"
Try. Fail. Try again.
The first lesson of engineering frustrates the creation of the Rube Goldberg Machine, named after the fanciful cartoonist who drew wildly complicated machines that end up performing very simple tasks. The machines are the antithesis of good engineering.
"It’s completely frustrating. Everything simple you want to do becomes complicated," said Joseph Connelly, a math teacher at Northeast who oversees its Rube Goldberg team. "But if this comes off, it will be awfully rewarding. Everybody will have had a blast and will have learned something."