Students at Hoffman Estates High School took their dream of building a miniature chocolate factory and turned it into a complex machine that has won awards at both the local and national level.
Two teams from the school participated in the Argonne National Laboratory's 18th Annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest March 11 at Argonne National Laboratory in the southwest suburbs.
One of the teams took first place from among eight competitors and moved on to compete in the National High School Rube Goldberg Machine Championship at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukeee, Wis., on March 16. The team took second place at nationals with its HEHS Chocolate Co. machine.
"Our favorite part of the competition was interacting with the spectators," said Jessica Brooks, Samantha Acosta, and Yazmin Núñez, three participants in the competition. "Answering questions and seeing the reactions from everyone, from children to Argonne employees, really made the experience great and worthwhile."
In the first competition, the HEHS Chocolate Co. was awarded the "People's Choice" award. The team name will be engraved on Argonne's traveling trophy until next year's competition. Additionally, they will get a tour of Argonne Laboratory and lunch with scientists.
At the national competition, they made it through the preliminary round and were one of six teams to make it to finals. They were awarded second place and an award for "Best Construction."
There are three basic criteria each machine needed to meet. It has to hammer and nail and have at least 20 steps, or 20 transfers of energy. Repetitive items do not count, such as a series of 10 dominoes falling. The task of the machine needs to be completed in less than two minutes, and it needs to fit in a 6-by-6-by-6-foot space. Teams receive points for having a theme or unifying story to their machine.
At the Argonne competition, second- and third-place were won by teams from Maine South High School. The Hoffman Estates team also won the People's Choice Trophy at the competition. It was awarded by popular vote by scientists and other Argonne employees visiting the machines during the contest.
The students have been working on this project in their spare time since the school year started. Some have put in more than 200 hours toward building the machine.
Wayne Oras, applied technology teacher at Hoffman Estates High School and sponsor of the team, said the motivation and drive his students have is outstanding. He said he was there to facilitate the project and bounce ideas off if his students got stuck, which they rarely did.
"People asked me how I got them motivated to come in, and it wasn't me," Oras said. "They were highly motivated and they were determined."
Reuben Lucius Goldberg, whose cartoons combined simple household items into complex devices that performed trivial tasks, inspired the Rube Goldberg Contest.
The machines use physics and engineering to create machines out of simple materials, such as marbles, mousetraps and rubber tubes. Oras believes that taking these physics and engineering principles and applying them outside of the classroom provides his students with hand-on experience they cannot get from a textbook.
"It's a great opportunity for the students to learn that they can physically create something they love that is also a great application of something they have learned," Oras said. "They like the problem solving and process; they are getting a lot of great experience; and I think their parents like that they are able to be creative, as well.
Students who participated in the Rube Goldberg contests were:
• Team 1 -- HEHS Chocolate Co. (54 steps) -- Adam Long, senior; John Reeves, senior; Jessica Brooks, junior; Samantha Acosta, junior; Yazmin Núñez, sophomore; and Gregg Lugo, junior.
• Team 2 -- Play Room (44 steps) -- Eduardo Patino, junior; Emilio Guzman, junior; Rima Homsi, sophomore; Nicole Srb, sophomore; Will Herbert, sophomore; Luke Lehl, senior; Peter Fritz, freshman; and Grace Wilkins, freshman.
For information on the Rube Goldberg Contest, go to rubegoldberg.com.