UW-Stout News Story

Owen-Withee trumps Murphy’s Law to win Rube Goldberg title

March 6, 2012

A team of high school students learned Tuesday at University of Wisconsin-Stout that Murphy’s Law — the axiom that if something can go wrong it will — isn’t always true.

The team, made up of 10 students from Owen-Withee High School, was participating in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest for the first time. Although the team named its machine Murphy, after Murphy’s Law, virtually everything went right.

Owen-Withee took first place in the regional competition with 461 points to advance to the national tournament Saturday, March 17, hosted by Ferris State University in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Loyal was second with 446 points followed by Thorp with 435, Chippewa Falls 433, Amery 403, Plum City 399, Pepin 397 and Bayfield 389.

Owen-Withee was surprised by its success, partly because of its inexperience and because other teams had more complex machines, according to co-captain Albert Goerlitz. “I thought we’d get crushed,” Goerlitz said.

The competition challenges students to create a machine that turns a simple procedure into something complicated. Machines must have a minimum of 20 steps and be a standard size. This year’s challenge was to inflate a balloon and pop it.

Owen-Withee’s machine has 28 steps. The machine ran flawlessly during one competition run and required just one intervention during the other run. “I think we won because our machine is so simple — there isn’t much room for error,” Goerlitz said.

Murphy is designed as a Viking village, based on the Viking-themed 2010 animated movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” The machine’s features include a spring-loaded Viking ship, a steel ball that catapults about 4 feet into a cloud and a giant purple dragon that, ultimately, pops the balloon with its teeth.

Owen-Withee was coached by math teacher Marilyn Jaskot.

Loyal received the Most Spirited Award and Plum City the People’s Choice Award.

Machines were judged on creativity and functionality. The event is named after an early 20th century engineer and cartoonist, whose work spoofed modern machinery.

UW-Stout has hosted the event for five years. The regional was coordinated by UW-Stout technology education students, led by Laurence Charlier, and adviser Sylvia Tiala.

“There was innovation, creativity and pride that went into your designs,” Charlier told the approximately 100 students during the awards ceremony in the Great Hall of the Memorial Student Center.

Event sponsors were OEM Fabricators, 3M Menomonie, Greenheck Fan, KL Engineering, Prototype Solutions, TTM Technologies and Burger King.

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