• Humboldt High School physics student Kyle O’Neal-Wilks works on his Rube Goldberg machine. CUB TRACKS/TAYLOR BEEMAN
  • Humboldt High School physics student Marisha Collins tests her Rube Goldberg machine. CUB TRACKS/ALEX MELENDEZ

Physics students make things difficult on purpose

Humboldt HIgh School Cub Tracks

Rube Goldberg was best known for his political cartoons showing gadgets perform simple tasks in exorbitantly complicated ways. Goldberg received many honors in his lifetime, including a Pulitzer Prize for political cartooning in 1948, and is the inspiration for Rube Goldberg Machines, devices created in honor of his drawings. 

Jessica Greenfield, a science teacher at Humboldt High School, created a semester-long project consisting of building such a machine in order to challenge her physics students to apply what they learned and help develop their engineering skills.  

“Even though Rube Goldberg Machines are often silly and impractical devices, they allow students to demonstrate their understanding of many physics principles and develop their engineering, time management and teamwork skills,” Greenfield said.

Humboldt High School physics student Marisha Collins tests her Rube Goldberg machine. CUB TRACKS/ALEX MELENDEZ

Every year the physics class votes on the simple task that each machine must end with; this year’s was to “water a plant.” Throughout the spring semester, 19 senior physics students brainstormed ideas, collected materials, drew blueprints and showed video progress as they worked on their projects in small groups. The project was shown on May 3, when each of the nine groups brought their machines to the HHS Media Center for display and competition. 

The machines were scored based on multiple categories: number of steps, types of energy, and functionality. Many of the projects included steps demonstrating kinetic, potential, magnetic, elastic, chemical and even electric energy. Students were also required to include simple machines such as levers, pulleys, wedges and inclined planes.

Out of the nine teams that competed, seniors Zoey Rinehart and Victoria White placed first, with numerous other teams only a few points behind. 

“Even though the Rube Goldberg Machine project was a lot of work, it was entertaining to build a machine that worked,” Rinehart said. “When Tori and I presented the machine to the class, our main thought was ‘please work,’ not ‘please win us first.’ The project worked flawlessly, and learning that we had won first was just an honor in itself.”


(Editor’s note: Emma Johnson is the features editor for Cub Tracks, the Humboldt High School student newspaper.)

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