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December 20, 2012 : VIDEO: OUL Students Build Rube Goldberg Machines as Final Project

Lancaster –It took about 25 hours for Ohio University Lancaster student Kameron Starr to put it together, but he said it was well worth it. Starr was one of several students in Dr. Sandy Doty's Physics 2051 class that opted to build a Rube Goldberg machine as the final project for the class.


A Rube Goldberg machine is a deliberately over-engineered device that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion.It usually includes a chain reaction.The goal of Starr's machine was to shoot a golf ball into a coffee tin.


Kameron Starr Rube Goldberg Machine

Student Kameron Starr builds Rube Goldberg machine in his garage


"There was a lot of trial and error.In my head at first, I thought it was going to be a two-hour thing. I thought I would go out in the garage for a little bit and it would be done. That is why I jumped on it so fast. But, with all the troubleshooting and redesigns, it took about 25 hours," said Starr. "You had to make the stuff and make it work. Then, you also had to present the calculations for it."


Doty required that the machine contain five different elements learned in her class. She said about half of the class opted to make the machine, while the other half opted to take a traditional final exam. This was the first time Doty offered the Rube Goldberg machine as an option.


"It just hit me one day that a Rube Goldberg machine would be a lot of fun for these kids and it will teach all the fundamentals that we are trying to teach this semester. It would give them a chance to apply what they've learned to a practical situation," said Doty. "I gave them ramps, marbles, levels and switches to use. Even if all they had was cardboard and ping pong balls, they could do something with it."


Starr said one night when he was working on the machine, he forgot to eat dinner. He also did not go to sleep until about 4 a.m. When he was done with the project, he had to shoot a video of the machine in use for Doty to see.


"I'm happy. But, it's kind of anti-climactic. It took hours and hours to build and only about 30 seconds to happen," said Starr. "But, I learned that when you apply physics, it's not as neat as the textbook portrays it. There are many variables that you need to take into account."


"For these kids, since they are mostly engineers, this just seemed like the right thing to do. It made it more than scratches on a piece of paper and numbers that mean nothing to them," said Doty.


Doty said some students are interested in putting together a group to enter the national Rube Goldberg contest next year. The competition will be held at COSI in Columbus.