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Texas tribute to Sept. 11 captures national Rube Goldberg contest

With a machine that paid tribute to the heroes of Sept. 11, 2001, The University of Texas at Austin student engineering team won the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest April 6.

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AUSTIN, Texas—With a machine that paid tribute to the heroes of Sept. 11, 2001, The University of Texas at Austin student engineering team won the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest April 6.

Theta Tau team members Brody Knudston (left) and Salvador Santolucito III

Photo: Purdue News Service
Theta Tau team members Brody Knudtsen (left) and Salvador Santolucito III, from the University of Texas at Austin, fine tune their winning machine, a tribute to the heroes of Sept. 11. Texas claimed first place at the national finals of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University. The contest task was to raise and wave the national flag in at least 20 steps.

Competing with regional winners from across the country, The University of Texas at Ausin bested the three other national finalists in a contest to build the wackiest, most inefficient method to raise, secure and wave an American flag using at least 20 steps and within a time limit.

The University of Texas at Austin Theta Tau engineering fraternity, Psi Beta chapter team devised a machine that required 63 steps to complete the patriotic duty. Their chain reaction began with a fire alarm that released a toy dog, which triggered a miniature fireman sliding down a pole to set the mechanics in motion.

The machine used five major energy transfers that launched mechanisms, released a catapult, unlatched levers, pulled pins, tripped photo transistors, cut strings and lifted weights until a pulley released a pendulum that ultimately picked up an American flag. Incorporated in the machine were patriotic and fire-rescue related representations, including a fire hydrant, a fire escape, a Statue of Liberty lamp and a replica of the Alamo.

“Our goal at first was to be competitive in the contest,” said Kevin Smith of Houston, the Texas team captain. “Then it became a way to pay tribute to fire and rescue and military personnel.”

The Austin Fire Department donated red T-shirts bearing the department’s logo to the team, to add to the patriotic acknowledgment of their colleagues in New York City.

The winning Longhorns received $500 and the top trophy for their flag-raising engineering efforts and became the fifth UT team in seven years to earn the award.

In addition to Smith, members of the team were: Brody Knudtsen, Timon Chiang, Chris Nance and Salvador Santolucito III.

The competition was the 14th annual Theta Tau Fraternity’s national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, hosted each year at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. It honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical, complicated machines to perform very simple tasks. The student-built machines are judged on completion of the task, creativity, the number of steps involved and how well they embrace the Rube Goldberg spirit. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started. Teams also are judged and awarded points based on the creative use of their materials and related themes.

For further information, contact Becky Rische (512) 471-7272.