Students construct complex cans at the 16th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest

By Steve McGregorFebruary 23, 2011

ARGONNE, Ill. —It may get a little messy at the 16th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Friday, Feb. 25, but at least it will be fun and exciting as 11 Chicago-area high schools compete to see which of their wacky contraption’s wins the title.

This year students are tasked with building a complex machine to water a plant in 20 or more steps. The machines will be put to the test in the contest, which kicks off at 10:30 a.m. at Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier.

11 teams will compete. Schools registered for this year’s contest are:

  • Chicago Christian High School, Chicago
  • Chicago Talent Development High School, Chicago
  • Downers Grove North High School, Downers Grove
  • Hoffman Estates High School, Hoffman Estates
  • Joliet Central High School, Joliet
  • Luther High School North, Chicago
  • Maine Township High School South, Park Ridge (2 teams)
  • Nobel Street College Prep, Chicago
  • Timothy Christian High School, Elmhurst
  • Wilmington High School, Wilmington

The winning team will receive a traveling trophy to display until the 2012 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. The first place team will also advance to the National Rube Goldberg High School competition on Saturday, March 19, at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich.

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 of those 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.

Argonne’s Division of Educational Programs and Communications and Public Affairs Division sponsor the Feb. 25 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.

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 their Web site.