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Ferris Takes Top Honors at National Rube Goldberg Competition

BIG RAPIDS – How many College of Technology students does it take to make freshly squeezed orange juice? If you want to incorporate such items as a toy train, a Slinky, a jack-in-the-box, dominoes, a hobby horse and other items in a 345-step process, thereby setting a world record and beating out previous record holder and four-time defending champion urdue University to win the annual Rube Goldberg competition – then just five.

Senior and team captain Tom Sybrandy of Holt, senior Matt Tomaszewski of Byron Center, freshman Mike Dunakin of Grand Rapids, senior James Travis III of Cedar Springs and junior Fred Reinecke of Muskegon won the National Championship at the Rube Goldberg Machine competition, held at Purdue University, Saturday, March 31. The team won 1st place over Purdue University, University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, Penn State University, University of Cincinnati, Hofstra University and Washington State Community College. Reinecke was unable to be at the competition due to being stationed in Iraq.

“We've come to the competition for the past four years, and after last year’s disappointment when our machine had a malfunction, we really wanted to come back and win this year," said Sybrandy.

Purdue had previously held the world record for the most elaborate device with a machine that incorporated 125 steps. Ferris’ effort, in which the team invested more than 3,000 hours, is being submitted to Guinness World Records, which officially recognized Purdue’s previous effort for “Largest Rube Goldberg.”

“At the beginning of the year we set the goal of 300 [different steps],” said Tomaszewski. “We wanted to win as well as set the world record for the most steps.”

Despite the whimsical nature of the event, the competition requires students to apply a wide range of engineering skills and work closely together to problem-solve the many ways in which their intricate contraptions can fail to achieve their end result. Winning machines must complete two successful runs, and points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started. Judges award points based on the creative use of materials, team chemistry, flow of machine and the theme of a machine.

“As team advisor, I could not be more pleased with a team that made it their goals to win and set a new record, and then met both of those goals,” said Thomas Hollen, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology. “We want to thank all the people in the University and College who helped these students achieve success.”

The team is also the subject of a documentary film, which has been in the works for the past year. An independent film company from California has been following and filming the team since last year’s competition. They came to Big Rapids to follow the team to Purdue.

The competition is named for Rube Goldberg – a cartoonist made famous by his elaborate drawings of imaginary devices requiring many steps to perform simple everyday tasks. The challenge of the 19th annual event was to take a whole orange, squeeze the juice from it and then pour the juice into a glass using 20 or more steps. Past competitions have required machines to perform such tasks as mark a ballot, toast a piece of bread or put a stamp on an envelope.

Sponsors for this year’s event included Omega Engineering Inc. of Stamford, Conn.; Minute Maid Co.; BAE Systems; Bosch Group Inc.; Daimler-Chrysler Corp.; General Electric Co.; Kimberly-Clark Corp.; Lockheed Martin Corp.; and Motorola Inc. Purdue’s College of Engineering and College of Technology also support the event.

Watch the Winning Machine in Action! Video taken at Regional Competition