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VIDEO NEWS: St. Olaf 'Rubes' hope to retain national title

By Mara Kumagai Fink '11 and David Gonnerman '90
March 12, 2010

Bryce Danielson '11 helps reset the machine after a practice run.

Who knew that dispensing hand sanitizer could take 204 steps? This year’s Rube Goldberg team has created a machine that uses chemistry, physics, geometry, music, and computer programming to complete the task.

The Rube Goldberg competition requires competitors to build “a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation,” and this year’s goal: dispense hand sanitizer into a hand. On March 27 at Purdue University the St. Olaf team will try to reclaim the title won by last year’s team.

The 15 members of the team have each put in a minimum of 10 and sometimes as many as 40 hours per week since September (they estimate that 5,000 hours have been devoted to the machine). This year’s team includes 13 physics majors, one chemistry major, and one computer science major.

Going medieval
Assistant Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht says their chances look good and notes that this year’s team is doing a good job of distributing the work evenly. Part of the reason for the optimism is the theme of this year’s machine, which counts for 10 percent of the total score. (Each team creates a story for their machine to depict, but last year the theme changed after the machine had been built.)

Kelsey Fahy '12 makes an adjustment.

“We have a better integrated theme than we did last year,” explains Engbrecht. “We chose a medieval theme from the beginning. Everything’s been built around that, and I think the theme fits much better onto the machine. It’s a better story line.”

All of the students who are part of the team took a first-semester class that focused on building a machine for the competition. Team member Erik Hemstad ’12 says that the experience has taught him the value of working with a team and that it will help him as he prepares to enter the engineering world.

“It’s been a fantastic opportunity to get a taste of engineering,” he says. “I really enjoy the great problem-solving opportunities. Every day is different with a new set of challenges ready for the team to answer with our own set of creative solutions.”

Some 200 spectators showed up to watch a demonstration of the machine March 13 at St. Olaf -- a trial run before the team hits the road to defend their title two weeks later.

Team members are: Co-captains Bryce Danielson '11 and Kendra Passow '10, Speaker Erik Hemstad '12, and Chris Bouxsein '12, Kelsey Fahy '12, Wasif Islam '12, Logan Johnson '11, Nate Kingsriter '12, Ian McGinnis '12, Ross Neal '12, Chris Nygren '12, AJ Rodd '11, Lauren Snyder '12, Nick Stoll '12, and Daniel Wiebe '10.

Check out local news coverage of the team, view a diagram of how it works, and watch a video of the machine's highlights, below  ...

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or