Chain reaction contraption contest

A team of students from Hempfield Area High School took first place in the 2019 Chain Reaction Contraption Contest, powered by Westinghouse Electric Company and presented in partnership with Carnegie Science Center. At the competition on Dec. 10, 2019, the team’s winning contraption “Ab’rube’cadabra” performed a magic card trick through a series of complicated steps.

More than 250 students from 27 high schools in the Pittsburgh region participated in the annual competition, which challenges students to build a machine that accomplishes a simple task using a series of 20 or more steps. This year, students created contraptions that made a mess and cleaned it up.

The contraptions could not rely on electricity from a plug to power their steps and often relied completely on mechanical power. Teams were judged on a variety of factors, including the reliability of the contraption, how well it fit the theme, how long it took to reset it for a second run, creativity, presentation, and the progress reports teams sent in before the competition day.

Students from Greater Latrobe Senior High School and Cambria Heights High School took second and third place, respectively. In addition, judges chose winners of nine special awards:

  • Somerset Area Senior High School — Most Green, sponsored by ALCOSAN
  • Penn-Trafford High School — Most Efficient Reset, sponsored by Bayer HealthCare
  • Central Catholic High School — Rookie of the Year, sponsored by Carnegie Science Center
  • Cambria Heights High School — Best Use of Gravity, sponsored by Carnegie Science Center
  • Indian Creek High School — Best Presentation, sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute
  • Pine-Richland High School — What Will You Create?, sponsored by Inventionland
  • Hempfield Area High School — Most Innovative, sponsored by Jones Day
  • Brentwood High School — Best Execution of a Theme, sponsored by Kennywood Amusement Park
  • Greater Latrobe Senior High School — Longest Successfully Executed Contraption, sponsored by Westinghouse Electric Company

“Each year, this competition showcases students’ remarkable creativity and inventiveness,” said Stu McNiell, Manager of STEM Programs at Carnegie Science Center. “It’s always exciting to see their responses to the presented engineering challenge, as well as the ingenuity of their contraptions.”

Chris Savinda, Manager of New Plant Project Quality at Westinghouse and the company’s coordinator for the contest, said that Westinghouse continues to support the competition because “we need the next generation of engineers, scientists, researchers, and problem solvers to lead us to a stronger future.”

“By participating in this contest,” he said, “the students also build additional skills necessary to be successful in this competition, in school, and beyond. Teamwork, problem solving, decision making, project management, and effective communication are all critical skills necessary to succeed.”


Carnegie Science Center is dedicated to inspiring learning and curiosity by connecting science and technology with everyday life. By making science both relevant and fun, the Science Center’s goal is to increase science literacy in the region and motivate young people to seek careers in science and technology. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Science Center is Pittsburgh’s premier science exploration destination, reaching more than 700,000 people annually through its hands-on exhibits, camps, classes, and off-site education programs.