Daniel Lopez, a junior electrical engineering student at LeTourneau University, was up for more than 24 hours Thursday perfecting his engineering project "Digital Pong" with his teammates.

Their hard work paid off. Lopez, along with teammates Jacob Hamrick and Austin Sawatsky, won first place — and $200 — at LeTourneau University's annual Rube Goldberg showcase at the Belcher Gymnasium in Solheim Recreation Center.

Oscar Ortiz, an event faculty adviser and electrical engineering professor, said the event started around 30 years ago and still allows creative thinking in engineering students.

"What we are trying to do is to allow the students to, in a fun way, go through the engineering design process," Ortiz said. "They have a simple task, but instead of doing it in an easy way, they will have to do it in a hard way, and fun way at the same time."

According to LeTourneau officials, each invention must have at least 15 energy transfers, or steps, to accomplish the designed outcome from each invention.

Two classes, sophomore advanced circuits and junior advanced electronics, compete with separate goals, Ortiz said.

"The advanced electronics class, the challenge is to create a machine that will reset and will run continuously without human interaction," he said. "The (advanced circuits class) it has a task, once you accomplish the task it will just finish."

Addie Randolph, a sophomore computer science and engineering major, said her group's project, "The All-Nighter," had a goal of turning off an alarm clock.

Parts of the project included coffee mugs, cans of energy drinks and a motion sensor, all reacting together with other parts to turn off the clock.

The group started working on the project about four weeks ago.

"A lot of the classes don’t really teach that (creative thinking). They’re like, 'Here’s an equation; solve this problem.' Not figure out how to do it from scratch," she said.

Cade Herrington, a junior electrical engineering major, was part of the third-place group with the project "Golfworld." 

"It starts off by dispensing (a golf ball), and we have a couple of putters. The first putter lets it on to the conveyor belt. The conveyor belt transports it," he said. "There’s a color sensor over the conveyor belt, so the color sensor checks which color the ball is, and we have three paths."

From there, the different color balls take different paths before reaching the same ending and starting over again. 

Herrington said the group spent about 450 hours on the project.

"What LeTourneau does typically with engineering projects that are team-based, they like to do something that’s really practical and can help people out, especially overseas and be of help to people in other countries," he said. "But this one is purely based off of fun."

Most teams, like Lopez's, divided the work up individually and then put the pieces of the projects together.

"Integrating it all together is the challenging part," he said. "A lot of the modules in this project we do in classes individually and they work. But when you have to integrate them all together, sometimes it’s not so easy."

That's when the problem-solving and creative design thinking come into play, Lopez said.

The group's project dispenses pingpong balls and, using a color sensor that lights up a string of LED lights matching the color of the balls, divides the balls by color back into tubes.

While the projects require advanced math and science knowledge, students also have to think about the human element.

"It does require math, because you have to know the law of physics, but just think about how the engineering in an airplane works to keep everybody safe, how the engineering in a car works or refrigerator or anything that requires a lot of thinking on how to protect people," Ortiz said. "It’s not just the math, but it has all these other aspects."

By showcasing that thinking to the community, the students could inspire the next generation of LeTourneau engineers.

"The idea of this project is to show the community and Longview and bring in more students to the school," Herrington said. "I think if people actually see it, it’s definitely successful in doing that. It’s a super cool thing. I think it excites kids; it lets them know that, 'Hey, you’re not going to be doing something that’s theory-based the entire time. You’re going to do some fun stuff, some hands-on stuff, and it’s going to be a good experience.'"