Sure, to shred a piece of paper you could just tear it into strips with your hands, and if you don't want to do that, any office supply store sells automatic paper shredders these days.
But where's the fun in that?
Joey Lerner, a Danville High School junior, and his teammates Kalipb Wiggins and Archana Uppuluri, also juniors, and Gabe Jarboe, a senior, came up with a lot more interesting way to shred paper, five sheets to be exact.
Their system involves a door knob, knocking an apple off a potato chip can and triggering a mouse trap, among other things. All this on the way to a mallet striking the on button for a power strip connected to five kitchen blenders with a sheet of paper inside each.
"Basically, it has to be safe and has to fit in 6 (feet) by 6 (feet) by 5 feet and has to be at least 20 steps," Lerner said Friday.
"You can't use fire," Wiggins added.
He seemed a little sorry about that, too.
The Danville students were in the University of Illinois Armory, competing in the annual High School Design Contest held as part of the UI's Engineering Open House.
Teams from high schools around the state showed up with paper-shredding machines designed in the tradition of Pulitzer Prize-winner Rube Goldberg, whose whimsical cartoons detailed excessively complicated devices for performing ordinary tasks.
The Engineering Open House brought thousands of people to campus Friday, along with ExplorACES, an event for prospective students in the UI College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
Both events continue today, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for ExplorACES and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the Engineering Open House.
Visitors attending the Engineering Open House should start at the "Area 51" tent across the street from the Illini Union, on Green Street between Wright Street and Mathews Avenue, Urbana. For information, visit eoh.ec.uiuc.edu on the Web.
Visitors coming to ExplorACES should start at the welcome tent located just west of the ACES Library, 1101 S. Goodwin Ave., U. For information, visit www.aces.uiuc.edu/ExplorACES/index.html.
The UI-based Illinois State Geological Survey also will open its doors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today, part of the celebration of the survey's centennial. The geological survey is located in the Natural Resources Building at Sixth Street and Peabody Drive, Champaign. For information on its open house, visit www.isgs.uiuc.edu/centennial/open-house.htm.
People touring the UI's engineering and agriculture campuses Friday could see hundreds of exhibits put on by UI students and faculty, from robots picking up color-coded balls and depositing them in mini basketball hoops – with extra points for acting autonomously rather than by remote control – to pounding a nail into a board with a banana. No problem, provided you have a vat of liquid nitrogen to freeze the fruit rock-solid first.
Visitors could engage in plenty of hands-on activities as well, like making decorated concrete paperweights and building Tinkertoy-style structures to be tested on a miniature "shake table" earthquake simulator.
Meanwhile, at the Rube Goldberg contest, Dani Jacobs, Kellie Kinsella and Jake Corley, students at Normal University High School, didn't get to use fire either. But they found a way to work a car battery, a power inverter and two soldering irons into their paper-shredding machine, which also involved a tabletop fan, falling golf balls and popping balloons.
Jacobs said the components, put together in three days of brainstorming, were a matter of using what was available.
"She lives out in the country," Jacobs said of Kinsella, "so they have everything."