High school students showcase their zipping machine, engineering skills

Written By BY HANNAH LUTZ Posted: 02/22/2014, 02:11am
Array The 19th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest took place at Navy Pier on Friday. Students from-area high schools compete by building the wackiest zipper machine in 20 steps or more. Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

Colorful contraptions pushed by toy dolls, falling golf balls and rising balloons filled the Chicago Children’s Museum Friday as students showcased their inventions that zip a zipper in at least 20 steps.

Over 100 area high schoolers had been wracking their brains since last fall for the most creative way to zip a zipper for a Rube Goldberg competition sponsored by Argonne National Laboratory and Chicago Children’s Museum.

On Friday, a team from Reavis High School took home the 1st place trophy for their Mario Bros. themed machine. The Burbank students’ next stop will be the national competition in Wisconsin in April.

Maine South High School students won second place and third place went to Luther North College Prep. Chicago Christian High School, which has three campuses in the south suburbs, received the People’s Choice award at Friday’s event.

Unlike athletic trophies that line the hallways of many schools, the trophy awarded to Reavis students means, “We got this for out brains. Brains win,” said Elaine Bentley, manager of public programs at the Children’s Museum.

Connor McPherson’s machine, set up with lettered building blocks, had “as many steps at the alphabet,” the 15-year-old Chicago Christian School student said as he latched a tube from a bottle of vinegar to a volcano.

A team from Hoffman Estates High School created a machine with an “around the world” theme.

“We were inspired by the zipper,” 17-year-old Jessica Brooks said. “It made us think of luggage and a travel theme.”

Brooks and her team decorated their machine with international flags as mock Russian waterfalls, Tour de France bicycles, Spanish bulls and hot air balloons closed their zipper in 42 steps.

“The best part is seeing your ideas come to life,” Brooks said. “Seeing it actually happen is the coolest thing ever.”

Emily Cantu, an Argonne spokesperson, said the competition allows students to test their engineering skills.

A team member from last year’s competition is now a student at MIT, she said.

But even if the machines don’t work correctly, students learn from trial and error.

“Problem solving is where it’s at,” Bentley said. “It’s about the knowledge students gain about physical science and tools.”

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