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Engineering students show off contraptions inspired by famous cartoonist

By by Reese Gordon rgordon@news-journal.com
April 17, 2014 at 10 p.m.


Chances are most people have never received a raucous ovation for simply playing an old vinyl record.

But that is exactly what happened Thursday during LeTourneau University's Rube Goldberg demonstration.

Thursday's demonstration featured five teams of junior electrical engineering majors attempting to re-create the concept behind Goldberg's cartoons.

Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist whose series of cartoons depicted complex gadgets performing basic tasks in indirect, convoluted and strange ways.

His ideas inspired the popular board game Mouse Trap.

Junior April Paul and her team were the masterminds behind "Vinyl Melody," designed to play an old tune on a vinyl record player through a succession of events. The students exhibited the transfer of energy between items that included billiard balls and a pair of pants culminating in the playing of a record.

The official trial run was not seamless, but that was not a shock to engineering professor Bill Graff.

Graff helped initiate the demonstration at the university during the 1980s.

"Most Rube Goldbergs don't work all the way through," he said. "This is about Murphy's Law. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong."

Paul said the team did have a successful trial run Thursday morning, and the project helped her team realize the importance of teamwork in engineering.

"There is a lot of interfacing going on, and that is a good exercise for engineering students," she said. "The whole thing is about trial and error. We had three weeks to complete this, so we divided the project into three phases. Each team member spent 25 to 30 hours on different aspects of it."

Senior electrical engineering major Ben Jaster attended Thursday's demonstration and recalled what it was like being a part of it in 2013.

"It is 24 hours of work the night before the competition," he said. "And you sometimes don't get time to test the system before presenting it. When it comes down to it, every step has an 80 percent chance of working. The more steps you have, the less likely you are to complete the whole process."

Lydia Frost, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, said Thursday that she had seen videos on Rube Goldberg demonstrations before but never in person.

"I think it really helps people think outside the box," she said. "Really creative."

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