Rube Goldberg Machine


Rube Goldberg was an engineer, inventor, cartoonist, and sculptor. He is best known for his popular cartoons depicting complicated gadgets performing simple tasks in indirect ways.  These cartoons led to the expression “Rube Goldberg machines” to describe similar gadgets and processes.


Question to Explore

How can we use recycled materials and what we know about chain reactions to design a Rube Goldberg Machine?

Ok Go Music Video

Watch this awesome Ok Go Music Video for inspiration! This Rube Goldberg machine is a lot more complicated than the one you will be creating, but you can still get some great ideas from it.

Material Options

  • dominoes
  • paper towel rolls
  • funnels
  • tracks (hot wheels, etc.)
  • marbles
  • toy cars
  • pvc elbows
  • string/yarn
  • popsicle sticks
  • rubber bands
  • cardboard
  • piping
  • wooden blocks
  • ruler
  • chopsticks
  • tubing
  • tin cans
  • ping pong balls
  • plastic cups
  • any other materials you can find around your house


  1. Brainstorm some ideas for a final task that you would like your machine to complete.  Some examples include:
    • Put a bottle in a bin
    • Make a cup of coffee
    • Pour cereal and milk
    • Staple a piece of paper
    • Water a plant
    • Shut a door
    • Turn something on or off (a light, a radio, an alarm)
    • Ring a bell
    • Break an egg
    • Make a ball go into a hole
    • Pop a balloon
  2. Gather your supplies
  3. Sketch a design for your Rube Goldberg Machine. Begin with only a few steps.  You can always add on more!
  4. Begin building, testing one step at a time.  You can try a backwards design method, where you begin with your task in mind and work backwards.  You can also start with your first step (ex: rolling a toy car into dominoes to set off the chain reaction)

Follow Up Questions

How did trial and error help you when creating your machine?

What other tasks could we complete with a Rube Goldberg Machine?

What other materials could we use?

Can you make your machine even more complicated by adding more chain reactions?

Sample Rube Goldberg Machines


Relevant Vocabulary

  • Chain Reaction- a series of events, each caused by the previous one
  • Rube-Goldberg– doing something simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary
  • Velocity– rate of changes its position.
  • Acceleration– change in speed or velocity.
  • Energy Transfer–  the transfer of energy from one object.
  • Kinetic Energy– is the energy in motion
  • Potential Energy– is the stored energy of position possessed by an object. 
  • Momentum– mass in motion
  • Collision– an instance of one moving object or person striking violently against another.
  • Forces– strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement.


Photo References