Rube Goldberg team's unique method of delivering Nerds earns national honor

Andy Knight, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
·3 min read

Apr. 16—ANDERSON — In some ways, the result was made more remarkable by the circumstances under which it was achieved.

Anderson High School's Rube Goldberg machine team recently took second place in the nation in the annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. The six-member team's 32-step machine was constructed in about eight weeks — considerably less time than in a normal year due to precautions related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to team sponsor David Perrel, a physics teacher at AHS.

"This has been a year where the students had to come in in a safer type of environment, having to try to socially distance and yet still work as a team to build something," Perrel said. "That created some different logistics and challenges that we haven't had in the past."

Team members worked throughout January and February to design and build a machine to carry out a simple task: shake and pour a box of Nerds candy. The rules of the contest call for competitors to use physics and engineering design principles to construct a device that would complete a simple task, such as pouring a bowl of cereal, through a series of complicated steps.

With protocols related to COVID-19 in place, Perrel said the team had to adapt the presentation of their entry to an entirely virtual format.

"They had to do it all online," he said, "so we videotaped the machine the students built and sent that entry in."

Perrel added that this year's team was well-blended between upperclassmen and students participating in Rube Goldberg for the first time.

"A lot of times for the few of us who were new, we had ideas, and it was a struggle to figure out how to execute the ideas," said Hannah Knost, a junior who joined the team for the first time this year. "Having the experienced people there to help test things and figure out how they work ... it was cool to all come together and come up with this one big project."

Landon Alumbaugh, a senior, was also a member of the team in 2018, when AHS took second place in the national contest as well. Alumbaugh said a lot of the unique elements of competing on the national stage in person were missing this year — including a trip to Chicago and a tour of the city's Museum of Science and Industry.

"It was a little bit more like you could enjoy it with your team and everything and get the full experience," Alumbaugh said. "This year was still fun, something new, something I don't think any of us thought would have happened. We got to at least compete and did very well."

Knost said that although the experience was different, she was amazed and proud of what the team accomplished in such a short period of time.

"Just starting from scratch and building this whole project in eight weeks, I was really happy and excited," she said. "To think it was my first time doing this, and we got second place at nationals ... it's still sinking in that we built such an intricate project that was second best in the nation."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.