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For first time, Rube Goldberg competition won't be at Purdue

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Saturday, March 9, 2013 - 5:49 am

LAFAYETTE — Science and art have been combined for years in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University. But the two disciplines appear to be pulling apart the engineering fraternity that organizes the competition and the corporation that oversees the annual event.

For the first time, the national round of the competition won't be held at the university's campus in West Lafayette. Instead, it will be held at the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, on March 30, according to The Journal & Courier.

The competition is named for the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, known for his drawings of whimsical, complicated devices performing at least 20 simple tasks in less than two minutes. The contest was held at Purdue from 1949 to 1956, before being revived in 1983 by the Theta Tau fraternity. The first national contest was held in 1988.

But administrators at Purdue asked for the competition to be moved off campus after last year's national event, said Jennifer George, Rube Goldberg's granddaughter and legacy director of Rube Goldberg Inc., which oversees the competition's licensing and intellectual property,

George said last year's competition was disorganized and gave the Purdue team advantages because other teams traveled long distances and didn't have enough time to set up.

Purdue senior Jun "Mike" Yao, the Theta Tau contest chairman, disagreed that the event was flawed, though admitted full-time students struggle to prepare. Another Theta Tau member, junior Clive Townsend, said Rube Goldberg Inc. has been difficult to work with.

"One group is looking at the legacy of Rube Goldberg and one group is looking at how furthering science, technology, engineering and mathematics through the contest," he said.

George doesn't disagree, saying machines at the contest in recent years have lost the whimsical nature and storytelling of Goldberg by adding hundreds of steps to complete a task. She said the contest is about more than science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM.

"Instead of just STEM, it is STEAM and the 'a' is for art," she said. "In my grandfather's world if it is not funny, you might as well not do it."