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Professor's work with Rube Goldberg machines earns recognition

February 01, 2012

Rube Goldberg machines, named after American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg, are highly complex machines designed to perform one simple task through a chain reaction. Building a Rube Goldberg machine is hands-on; it involves employing engineering design concepts, creativity, problem solving, and transforming everyday materials into a unique and innovative machine. Most importantly, it is a fun way to teach and learn essential science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts.

Shawn Jordan, assistant professor of engineering at the College of Technology and Innovation, has dedicated a lot of time to creating Rube Goldberg machines, and now he is giving back by teaching others how to build them. 

Jordan’s involvement with Rube Goldberg started when he founded and led a team to two back-to-back collegiate National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest championships. His team went on to break the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Functioning Rube Goldberg machine (125) steps. The visibility of breaking the world record then led to two appearances on Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!, ESPN, Games Across American (GSN), The Daily Planet (Discovery Channel Canada), and most recently, Modern Marvels: Weird Machines (The History Channel).

In addition to his award-winning designs and recognition on national television, Jordan took his passion for building Rube Goldberg machines and co-developed “Goldbergineering” summer camps to introduce middle and high school students around the world to the engineering design process. He is also the founder and chairman of the new International Online Rube Goldberg Machine Contest for ages 11-14, which will be held this May.

Jordan’s most recent proposal to expand the “Rube Goldbergineering” camp program to Native American reservations in the southwest earned him the Woodside Sustained Community Service Award.

"The Award Committee is very pleased and proud to make an award of $5000 to assist Prof. Jordan's valuable work in developing Rube Goldberg projects to spur an interest in engineering among Native American young people," said Migs Woodside, ASU community advocate and the woman who helped establish the community award.

“What is great about Rube Goldberg machines is they teach a lot more than basic science and engineering concepts,” said Jordan. “The technical side of building a Rube Goldberg machine challenges students to apply the engineering design process and systems thinking in a collaborative team setting. The flip side to that is that these machines also encourage students to be creative and think more holistically about the context of the design by adding things like visuals and music.”

“Shawn’s teaching of engineering design concepts through collaborative Rube Goldberg projects is a great example of the innovative and engaging approach to education and curriculum development at the College of Technology and Innovation (CTI),” said Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of CTI.

Since joining ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation in January 2011, Jordan has been appointed Chair of the College of Technology and Innovation K-12 Task Force. He also serves as an Engineering Outreach Coordinator for Rube Goldberg Inc., and will be involved with the first ASU High School Regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest that will be held on March 30.