Rube Goldberg Machine

Project Aim:

In a group of 2-3, build a Rube Goldberg machine in the time given. A machine that uses chain reactions to perform a simple task.

What is a Rube Goldberg Machine?

Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist (New York Post) that became famous for drawing very complicated machines that performed very simple tasks.

A typical Rube Goldberg device could not perform a job as straightforward as turning on a faucet without the assistance of pulleys, fulcrums, mousetraps, cables, and gears.

By the time the cartoonist retired, the term “Rube Goldbergian” had been enshrined in the language to describe anything characterized by excess complexity.


To see a Rube Goldberg machine in action, watch this video:

Project Requirements:

1) Sketch/Explanation of Machine:

You must provide a drawing that shows the step-by step operation of your machine. Each step must be labeled.

2) Machine Construction:

Your team must build a machine with at least 6 steps (6 simple machines) that will complete a task (turn a page in a book, water a plant, ring a bell etc.). You must use at least one lever and one pulley. You may not have consecutive machines that are the same type (example: no pulley to pulley).

 Materials for Construction

To make life easier for yourself it is a good idea to use materials that are easy to manipulate. For example:

Cardboard, String/Twine, Wood, Plastic, Recyclables…

It will also help to use other items to help run your chain reactions

Table Tennis Balls, Marbles, Golf Balls, Masking and Sticky Tape, Elastic Bands, and other easy to source items

Criteria for building your Rube Goldberg Machine:

  • Your machine must have minimum running time of 10 seconds.
  • Your machine must start with a single action such as pressing a button, letting go of a marble, cutting a string, removing a barrier, etc.
  • No other additional human input is given once machine is started.
  • Your machine must have a minimum of 6 connected steps/stages that do work. For a machine to count (and do work) it must move something!

Definition of a step:

A single step is defined as a transfer of energy, or 1 cause through 1 effect

Examples of steps:

  1. Pulley is activated and moves weight which hits lever
  2. Lever moves and causes marble to roll
  3. Marble rolls down a ramp and springs a mousetrap
  4. The mousetrap pulls a string causing scissors to cut
  5. The scissors cut a cord, causing a weight to fall
  6. Weight drops on tin foil, causing light bulb to turn on


Grading Rubric for Rube Goldberg Machine

Criteria Very High High Satisfactory Not Satisfactory Not Shown
Machine has at least 1 pulley and 1 lever and has at least 6 steps  
Machine is reliable  
Drawing is detailed complete and labelled  
Team works together well, and work is shared among team members  
Total (20)



Relevant Resources: