Rube Goldberg Project

Event Description: Teams of two or three people will design and build a Rube Goldberg-style machine that uses different types of energy to accomplish a single task, and document the operation of their machine with digital video. This project is adapted from the work of Ms. Huntress at South Lewis High School.


  1. Regents students must utilize at least three types of energy and five energy transitions; AP students must utilize at least three types of energy and eight transitions.
  2. Safety considerations must remain top priority at all times.

Scoring: Project will be scored based on the group video as well as each individual's lab report.

Logistics: Machines must be assembled and disassembled (cleaned up) by the end of each lab period. Machines will not be allowed to remain in the active lab area past the end of a class or overnight.

Video: Each video must contain an oral explanation of what is occurring, or an individually labeled video clip of each transition that has the correct angle and speed to allow the transition to be seen. Each video must contain a continuous run of the Rube Goldberg device. The camera may move to show better effects, but may not be a collection of clips. Note that it is permissible to show a single continuous run of the machine, and then show detailed clips from different angles of the various transitions.

Grading will be based on originality, neatness, and meeting the requirements outlined above. Help with video editing can be obtained from the Video Podcast project tab. Please title and credit your video, but do not use last names.

Lab Report: Individual lab reports must follow standard class lab report guidelines. Your lab report should:

  1. State the objective of the project (i.e. use a Rube Goldberg device to ...)
  2. Introduction should contain types of energy and a list of possible transition ideas.
  3. Procedure, Data, and Analysis will be an organized running dialogue. For each step (A, B, C, etc.) discuss:
    1. What you thought would work.
    2. How you made it.
    3. How you changed it based on observations.
  4. Conclusions should be a diagram of your final design, with letters indicating transitions and correctly labeled energy types.

Helpful Hints:

  1. Decide on a goal (last step) for your machine. It may be something useful, like how to turn off the alarm clock, or something wacky, such as how to swat a fly.
  2. Gather a few things from around the house, in a junk drawer, in your locker or car. Balls, marbles, dominoes, string, toy cars, mousetraps (never use a rat trap - it could break the bones in your hand), magnets, cardboard or tubes, etc. Don't worry, you can collect more later. Avoid fire or dangerous chemicals.
  3. Now play with the items you gathered. What can the car bump into or knock down? Can the string pull something up? What can push the ball down the cardboard ramp? Try it out!
  4. Get a piece of paper and start writing down any idea that pops into your head. This is called brainstorming. No matter how crazy the idea seems, write it down for later. Even if you don't use it, it may help you think of more things. Trouble brainstorming? Then try this. Write down 50 uses for a computer disk (other than its intended use). It can be anything, as silly as you want. Or go through the alphabet, naming one machine part for each letter: airplane, balloon, comb, etc.
  5. Once you get a few good ideas for your machine, make a list, in order, of the steps, or draw a simple picture of the steps.
  6. Plan on making quite a few changes to your machine as you build it. It may look different from your original drawing. Try not to get frustrated, this is part of learning what works best.
  7. If you get stuck at a certain step of your machine, why not try to work your way backwarsd? Start at the last step, and connect the part to it that triggers it. Or take a break away from the machine... sometimes you'll come back with a fresh solution to the problem.
  8. Maybe you've overlooked the most important element of an outstanding Rube Goldberg machine: wackiness! Rube saw the humor in every situation. His ludicrous cartoons were a satire on the American public for their complicated methods of problem solving. Be sure to follow my guidelines, but then go crazy! A true Rube Goldberg machine would be boring without some common household items (old toys, toilet plunger, egg beater, mousetrap, typewriter, etc.)
  9. Another quick brainstorming solution is to develop at least a few parts of the machine around a theme:
    • Star Wars: use your collection of a tiny spaceship and toys to drop down a string, bump a toy alien, push some "moon" rocks, etc.
    • Farming: imagine a small tractor pushing a cow, triggering a mini bale of hay to drop into a small barn...
    • Sports: golf balls, mini racetracks, tiny tennis racket, and even use a baseball bat or golf club as a sturdy pole.
    • Pets: toy cat, mousetrap, catnip, dog leash, collar, ball of string, feeding dish, etc.
  10. Still having trouble? Look up the inspiration for this event and all things related to Rube Goldberg, such as his original cartoons. And check out the helpful sites below!


Helpful Links: