Argonne National Laboratory

Local high school students to shed some light on the 14th annual Rube Goldberg Contest

By Jared SagoffFebruary 9, 2009

ARGONNE, Ill. — How many local high school students does it take to change a light bulb? Find out at the 14th annual Rube Goldberg contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, as they replace an incandescent light bulb with a more energy-efficient design in at least 20 steps.

The machines will be put to test in the contest, which kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Feb.13, at Chicago Children's Museum at navy Pier.

Up to 12 teams can compete. Schools registered for this year's contest are:

  • Alan B. Shepard H.S., Palos Heights
  • Glenbrook North H.S., Northbrook
  • Glenbrook South H.S., Glenview
  • Illinois Math & Science Academy, Aurora
  • Jones College Prep, Chicago
  • Luther H.S., Chicago
  • Niles West H.S., Skokie (two teams)
  • St. Charles East H.S., St. Charles
  • Wilmington H.S., Wilmington
  • Woodstock H.S., Woodstock

The winning team will receive a traveling trophy to display until the 2009 contest and a tour of Argonne, which will include a visit to the Advanced Photon Source, and lunch with Argonne scientists. The first-place team also will have the opportunity to demonstrate its winning machine at Argonne on the day of the tour. In addition, each team member and the team's faculty advisor will receive an Argonne National Laboratory Rube Goldberg Machine laptop backpack and an Argonne Rube Goldberg Machine Contest T-shirt.

Second-place team members and their faculty advisor will receive Argonne National Laboratory Rube Goldberg Machine laptop backpacks and Argonne Rube Goldberg Machine Contest T-shirts.

Third-place team members and their faculty advisor will receive Argonne National Laboratory Rube Goldberg Machine Contest T-shirts.

A trophy will be awarded to the team that wins the People's Choice Award, to be chosen by popular vote by people attending the Chicago Children's Museum during the contest.

Rube Goldberg machine contests are inspired by Reuben Lucius Goldberg, whose cartoons combined simple household items into complex devices to perform trivial tasks. The machines combine the principles of physics and engineering, using common objects such as marbles, mousetraps, stuffed animals, electric mixers, vacuum cleaners, rubber tubes, bicycle parts and anything else that happens to be on hand.

But the ultimate goal of the Argonne-sponsored contest is give students hands-on engineering experience and to encourage them to make science and engineering part of their future academic and professional careers.

“Designing and building a Rube Goldberg machine has a lot in common with modern research and development,” says David Baurac, one of the founders of the Argonne competition. “Specifically, it's creative problem solving, and it's a team activity. The teachers I talk to tell me that the contest is not about winning, it's about the experience of participating.”

Information about the Argonne Rube Goldberg Machine Contest for High Schools is available online at

Argonne's Division of Educational Programs and Communications and Public Affairs Division sponsor the February event in collaboration with Chicago Children's Museum and the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, held annually at Purdue University. The event is licensed by Rube Goldberg, Inc.

“Rube Goldberg” is a registered trademark and copyright of Rube Goldberg, Inc., which can be reached, at (203) 227-0818, by e-mail at or via their Web site at

Chicago Children's Museum's mission is to create a community where play and learning connect. For more information about Chicago Children's Museum, call (312) 527-1000 or visit