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Rube Goldberg Challenge

Enter as an individual or form a team for the Research Week Rube Goldberg Challenge! The goal is to create an over-engineered machine using everyday items with multiple steps that create a series of actions to achieve the stated goal.

Image of a Rube Goldberg machine drawing. Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin (1931) Taken from

Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin (1931) Taken from

2018 Challenge


Design and build a Rube Goldberg device made out of readily available items that will use a complicated series of actions to trigger a final action that demonstrates your school spirit. Examples could be raising a banner, kicking a field goal, playing Rocky Top, etc.


  • Your device must consist mainly of readily available objects.
  • Once started, your device must operate successfully without interaction.
  • The device must have at least 5 different steps.
  • From start to finish, the operating time of your device must be at least 15 seconds but cannot exceed one minute.
  • The device must fit in a 3 ft x 3 ft x 2 ft imaginary rectangular volume.
  • The device must be able to be operated in a safe, clean, and non-destructive manner (e.g. no fires, explosions, sharp projectiles, high-speed projectiles, etc.).


  • While we want complicated and creative – one of the challenges is to come up with a device that works but does not require a lot of time to develop.
  • You are encouraged to use readily available materials.
  • Don’t forget about reliability and repeatability – it is better to have a simpler device that works rather than a complex device that doesn’t.
  • Try to come up with actions that are creative and that are visually appealing and that don’t happen too quickly to be seen.
  • Using stored mechanical energy (marbles, springs, rubber bands, things falling) is OK, but consider using other forms of energy (electrical, chemical, wind).

You can find inspiration for your device from these sources:


  • 50% Task Completion – Well, the machine needs to work. It needs to complete the ultimate task you have given it.
  • 20% Humor – Reuben Goldberg designed his machines in cartoons and they were meant to be funny.
  • 15% Use of non-stored mechanical energy – Using stored mechanical energy (marbles, springs, rubber bands, things falling) is OK, but consider using other forms of energy (electrical, chemical, wind).
  • 10% Number of Steps – How many steps did you use to complete the task? (5 to 10 steps – 1 points; 10-30 – 5 points; 31-50 steps – 7 points; 50+ steps – 10 points)
  • 5% Task Creativity – How creative were you in the ultimate task.


The competition will take place Thursday, April 20 at 6 pm in the McClung Museum Auditorium. Register your team/individual entry below.


  • Only students may build the machine.
  • Only students may set up the machine (non-team members may help transport).
  • Only students may touch the machine during the competition.


Prizes will be awarded in several categories. If there are enough entries, both Individual and Team prizes will be awarded.

  • 1st Place: $300 team prize and Campus Trophy for your home department
  • 2nd Place:$200 team prize
  • 3rd Place: $100 team prize

OUR will submit prize information to the Office of Financial Aid (OFA). OFA will take care of processing the payments which will get posted on your MyUTK account and direct deposited to the bank account as set up with the Bursar’s Office.

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