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Annual Physics Olympics: Cannons, Hammers, and Eggs

Posted: November 22, 2010
Buffalo State welcomed more than 150 science and physics students from local middle and high schools to the seventh annual Physics Olympics, Saturday, November 20. The annual event is sponsored by the Western New York Physics Teachers Association (WNYPTA) and the college’s Physics Department.

“The event gives students who are interested in science a chance to see that they are members of a larger community of scientists,” said Michael DeMarco, professor and chair of the Physics Department.

The students were divided into teams, with each team taking part in three events—including the egg catapult. “Students had to modify an egg catapult and predict where the egg would land,” said David Henry, associate professor of elementary education and reading and an expert on science education. “If they predict correctly, the eggs land safely, but a miss means a mess.”

The other events included a crane building contest and a physics obstacle course. In less than an hour, each team had to design, build, and test a crane made of popsicle sticks and glue; the one that held a given weight the farthest distance was named winner. To successfully complete the obstacle course, each team had to work its way through laser target shooting, predicting where two toy cars would collide, hammering a bowling ball through a course with a rubber mallet, and answering power-of-ten Fermi questions as quickly as possible. “Teamwork’s an essential part,” said Henry.

Twelve high schools took part, fielding 32 teams. A team from Frontier Central took first place for the egg catapult. Students from Nichols School took first place in the obstacle course, and a team from Williamsville South won the craft-stick crane contest.

In the middle-school category, a team from JFK Middle School took first place for the egg catapult. A team of young scientists from Akron Middle School came in first in the obstacle course, and a team from Ben Franklin Middle School won the craft-stick crane contest.

After the participants enjoyed a free pizza lunch, members of WNYPTA and the physics faculty demonstrated some physics principles using, among other things, a bed of nails and a cannon firing ping-pong balls.

“Students who are interested in science need encouragement,” said Henry. “By participating in this event, they find out that physics is not just fascinating—it’s fun.”

Video: WIVB-TV "Physics Olympics test local students"

Article: Focus on Sabbatical, David Henry

Article: Smashing Science
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