Popping a Balloon—in Only 300 Steps
Engineers create a crazy balloon-popping contraption and break a record
How many steps does it take to inflate and pop a balloon? For a team of engineers at Purdue University, the answer is 300 steps.
The engineers set out to build a contraption, called a Rube Goldberg machine, that would take a ridiculous and complicated path to reach the busted-balloon goal.
Their mind-boggling contraption’s 300 steps broke the Guinness World Record for “largest functional Rube Goldberg machine.” Another team from Purdue, which built a 244-step device last year, had held the previous record. (That machine’s ultimate task was to water a plant.)
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Rube Goldberg machines use a series of simple machines—like levers, pulleys, screws, and wedges—connected to one another. One simple machine causes the next one to start working, leading to a giant chain reaction.
The Purdue team’s machine completes 24 tasks before inflating the balloon. This series of random, everyday actions includes making toast, juicing oranges, assembling a hamburger, inserting a CD into a CD player, shutting off an alarm clock, putting a stamp on an envelope, and sharpening a pencil.
At the very end of the wacky chore list, a giant spring-loaded hand pops out and pricks the balloon.
The team created the complex gizmo to compete in this year’s Rube Goldberg Machine Contest held on the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette, Indiana, on March 31. The annual competition is open to high schools and colleges from across the United States.
WHO WAS RUBE GOLDBERG?
Rube Goldberg was an engineer and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist. He became famous for his drawings of contraptions that use a complex series of simple actions to perform tasks. Although he never actually built the machines he dreamed up, engineers and scientists have long been inspired by his drawings.
Goldberg died in 1970. There are now all kinds of Rube Goldberg machine-building contests like the one in which the team from Purdue competed. Judges for these contests rate inventions based on complexity, creativity, and wackiness, in honor of Goldberg’s sense of humor.