Seniors Design and Build a Rube Golberg Machine

Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist with a degree in engineering from Cal Berkeley and the only person ever to be listed in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as an adjective (Rube Goldberg Machine). His zany invention cartoons are the inspiration for these contraptions, which are deliberately complex -- a series of devices that perform simple tasks strung together to form a complicated whole.

Every spring, seniors in physics classes divide into teams to make individual segments of the Rube Goldberg Machine, which come together for a one-time live test during All-School Meeting.

This open-ended challenge employs the engineering design process and has a pre-determined purpose: each individual project will have its own design but will link together by a pull-string to produce a domino effect.

Seniors have been learning about simple and compound machines, calculating mechanical advantage, and the role of machines in society. Complex machines are built upon a foundation of knowledge of simple machines.


1. Have at least 5 segments
2. Include 3 examples of each: potential energy, kinetic energy, and torque
3. Inclue a rubber band a mousetrap, a coat hanger, and a balloon

4. Include at least 80 cm of vertical distance

5. Spin at some stage with a radius larger than 18 cm

6. Include motion whose principal purpose is sound, in some stage

7. May only use electical power in one stage


Saws and drills, 3' 5/8" dowel rods, mousetraps, string, balloons,
rubber bands, anything that qualifies as junk