They did it

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 7, 2005

Throughout much of the early to mid-1900s, Rube Goldberg’s name was known in households across America. An engineer by trade and an artist by nature, Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and founding member of the National Cartoonist Society.

But along the way, his work stepped away from mocking America’s political figures. Goldberg began to draw incredibly large and complicated devices that performed simple tasks, such as opening a door or cracking an egg. His cartoons were, he said, symbols of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results.

In late June, two Nansemond River High students will channel Goldberg’s spirit all the way to national competition.

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Over the past month, Will Hirsch and Cory Wells, both member of the school’s Technology Students Association prepared for the Technology Challenge in Hampton, where they’d be facing teams from across the state in something of a specialized science fair. The pair had to develop a Goldberg-type machine that would spend a huge amount of time performing a very simple task.

&uot;It seemed like a lot of fun,&uot; Hirsch said. &uot;We planned it for about two weeks.&uot;

All the boys had to do was ring a bell. How they got there, however, needed to be pretty tough.

Eventually, they got a box, and filled it with a project they hoped would wow the judges.

&uot;It was harder to put together than it was to come up with,&uot; Wells said.

With the push of a doorbell, a lever pushed a small, hard, round ball down a copper tubing track. It dropped onto a switch, which turned on a motor. The motor pun, raising up a cup that caught the ball. A plank holding up a platform was knocked over, dropping a weight from the platform down to a mousetrap, which snapped back to knock down another plank, pushing the ball on top of the bell.

&uot;The first time we got it to work was about 30 minutes before we had to turn it in,&uot; Hirsch said.

Unfortunately, the trend didn’t continue; when the two put on their display for the judges on April 29, something went wrong twice, and it didn’t finish.

&uot;We’d probably done it 10 times, and that was the only time it screwed up,&uot; Wells said.

&uot;After that, we did it five times, and it worked every time.&uot;

Fortunately, the layout and purpose of the project was enough for the judges – the pair won second place and will represent the eastern region in the nationals in Chicago June 26-July 3.

&uot;We were surprised,&uot; said Hirsch. &uot;We thought it had let us down.&uot;

For their next project, the two plan to add some more occurrences.

&uot;We’re going to use a lot more steps and use some more random objects,&uot; Hirsch said, &uot;like a Pringles box and maybe a train.&uot;