What is a Rube Goldberg machine?

A Rube Goldberg machine is “a deliberately over-engineered machine/device that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion, usually including a chain reaction. A common example is the game Mousetrap; another famous example is the video to the song “This too shall pass” by OK Go.

What does the Wonder of Science grade 8 challenge entail? 

In the case of the Wonder of Science grade 8 challenge, the task of the Rube Goldberg machine is simply to pop a balloon. As long as the students build something that has at least two elements to it and which pops a balloon they’ve successfully created a Rube Goldberg machine! However, we recommend that you try for five to six elements. Last year there were some rather complex but effective machines built.

There are many ways to pop a balloon — pin, flame, stampede of wild elephants. How the balloon is popped is left up to the students. What elements are in the machine is also left up to the students. The Wonder of Science challenges (especially this one) are supposed to be very open-ended, thereby allowing students to tack the project in any direction they desire.

What problems will the students encounter when building a Rube Goldberg machine?

The key to most Rube Goldberg machines is the transfer of energy. How can the energy of a falling object be transferred to make another roll along a table? How can a rolling object turn the knob? How can the energy of a car rolling along the floor be transferred to a paper plane on top of a bookshelf to make it fly? These are the types of problems your students will encounter when building their Rube Goldberg machines. Students aren’t constrained to using moving or mechanical energy, they can use chemical or electrical energy, as long as it’s safe.

Do they need to bring the machine to the regional final?

Students don’t need to recreate their machine at the regional final. All that is needed is for them to have a video recording of their machine working in one continuous shot (no editing). A presentation outlining the process behind the creation of the machine and the science behind the energy transformations would then follow.

If you have more question, please contact our program manager Robyn Bull at robyn.bull@uq.edu.au