Penn-Trafford students fine-tune their Rube Goldberg contraption

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 10:06 p.m.

Students from the Penn-Trafford Chain Reaction Team are doing some last-minute troubleshooting on their 22-step Rube Goldberg machine.

The team is preparing for a Feb. 19 tour of the Westinghouse Electric Co. Waltz Mill site near Madison after finishing seventh among 40 entries in the company's Chain Reaction Contraption Contest in December. Students will be showing their machine to professional engineers at the site.

This is the second year for the team, which received guidance from teachers Mark Romeo and Christina Wukich. This year's challenge was to fill a container and close it by using at least 20 steps.

From the start of the school year until mid-December, the students spent about 80 hours designing and building a device in the style of Rube Goldberg, the cartoonist who fashioned multifaceted machines to complete simple tasks.

The students settled on an Amish barn-raising theme that features seven ramps, eight levers, two pulleys, K'Nex building equipment, a stuffed cow named Bessie, a small plastic watering can, various Fisher Price animal toys and a cream-cheese container, among other things. One and a half cups of water pour through the contraption at various points.

Many of the items were included in last year's project, in which the team created a xylophone that played the notes to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Every piece of the contraption was recycled — as was required by the contest.

“All the wood came from our basement,” said freshman Kate Bracken, who kept the machine in her family's sunroom in Harrison City during its construction. “We intended to build shelves, and it never happened.”

The students said they learned about other Goldberg machines by watching videos on YouTube.

Last week, they were working out some of the bugs that occasionally develop. When the device is working perfectly, the entire process lasts between 50 seconds and a minute, which is within the two-minute requirement.

The biggest snag happens when Bessie gets stuck, delaying her rise through a pulley system.

Freshman Karli Frank said the competition was a good experience because she is interested in pursuing a career in engineering.

“I learned a lot about simple machines and how they go together,” she said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or

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