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Southland Students Build a Better Machine

Created: 03/18/2014 11:01 PM KAALtv.com
By: Dan Conradt

(ABC 6 News) -- Remember the old game “Mousetrap”? Well, some students in Southeast Minnesota have taken the old game one step further.

"This year's national theme was to zip a zipper," Southland High School senior Morgan Schmitz said.

You've probably never done it with a fan, a golf ball and a plastic boat, but Rube Goldberg has.

"He was a cartoonist, and his idea was to use every day, ordinary objects and create something to perform an easy task," Schmitz explained.

And when two teams from Southland High School took their contraptions to a regional Rube Goldberg competition, they finished first and second.

"We had to come up with a theme, and so we came up with camping," Schmitz said.

“We knew we had to zip the zipper, so we tried to kind of work backwards," added Southland senior Lukas Anderson.

It didn’t work the first time, but persistence and trial-and-error paid off

“We start off by putting a golf ball in this set of three ramps, and when it gets in the basket the picnic basket lowers," Schmitz explained, demonstrating the Rube Goldberg machine.

“On day one it was kind of hard to picture it all finished," Anderson said.

"When that switch turns on, it starts the fan, which blows the fire," Schmitz said, continuing her Goldberg demonstration.

We kind of improvised for certain steps, found out things didn't work," Anderson said.

“They were coming in after school, before practice, before a bus left to go to an away game they were here," physics teacher Paula Mortenson said of her Goldberg students.

"The kinetic energy turns to elastic potential energy," Schmitz said.

But the lessons learned go far beyond physics.

"The tenacity, it's learning to work and be frustrated and do work with teammates and work through that frustration," Mortenson said.

“I think we just had to step outside of our comfort box," Anderson added.

And like with most of life's challenges, the goal is achieved if you just stick with it.

"When it reaches a certain point the marshmallows are done, the stick is pulled off the fire and the tent stops zipping," Schmitz said as the Goldberg machine accomplished its goal and zipped a zipper on a miniature nylon tent.

Between 15 and 20 regional Goldberg contest winners will take part in national competition in Milwaukee in early April.