St. Olaf College | News

Fast Company magazine highlights professor’s Rube Goldberg machine

The Rube Goldberg machine that St. Olaf Associate Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht and two alumni recently built for 3M uses 25,000 Post-it notes and 75 rolls of blue painter tape, among other materials. Watch it in action here.

When Fast Company magazine wanted tips for designing an “awesome Rube Goldberg machine,” they turned to St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht.

For four years, Engbrecht led teams of St. Olaf students to the national Rube Goldberg competition — where their machines twice took first place — and he recently worked with alumni Bryce Danielson ’11 and Christian Weeks ’13 to create a Rube Goldberg contraption for 3M.

The end result of that collaboration, dubbed The Brand Machine, is “a wonderful contraption that uses 10 different 3M products as gears in an insanely convoluted Rube Goldberg machine,” notes Fast Company.

Engbrecht tells the magazine that a great Rube Goldberg contraption has to have “interesting and wacky” parts; be perfectly timed; work flawlessly (and, ideally, always work flawlessly); take into account feedback from non-scientists; and have a “big and spectacular” finish — which, of course, the 3M machine does thanks to 25,000 Post-it notes.

When he’s not working on Rube Goldberg machines, Engbrecht teaches analytical physics, electronics, engineering design, and a variety of introductory and advanced laboratories at St. Olaf. His research interests focus on the interaction of positrons and positronium with ordinary matter at low energies, as well as robotics.

Read more about the first group of St. Olaf students to win a Rube Goldberg national championship in the St. Olaf Magazine.