Physics Olympics

Posted on 6th March, 2017

Year 9 take part in Physics Olympics

Year 9 pupils from eleven north-west Ogden Trust Partnership schools battled it out in a series of scientific challenges at the annual Physics Olympics.

This popular event was hosted by Bolton School Boys’ Division and organised by Dr Louise Wheatland, the resident Ogden IoP Physics Teacher Fellow. The Bolton School Sixth Form boys studying physics at A Level helped to run the activities and total up the scores alongside the teaching staff and technicians.

Each team was named after famous physicist – from Schrödinger and Hawking to Archimedes and Galileo and then challenged to complete a series of tasks, each designed to test their skills and knowledge of the subject.

With just thirty minutes to complete there was certainly a competitive atmosphere to the Physics Olympics. Our team Matthew Barber, Billy Ashworth, Amanda Todd and David Hilton were ready to respond to the challenge.

‘Bullseye’ was one of the highlights: the students were asked to build a paper rocket, which they then had to fire along the corridor using air pressure. There were 10 extra points to be gained for sending the rocket through a hoop hanging from the ceiling, but potentially 25 or 50 to be gained from landing somewhere on the bullseye itself. Tactics therefore came into play as well as aerodynamics. However, some groups did prove it was possible to achieve both impressive feats in the same shot!

The ‘Delayed Timing’ task asked students to slow a marble’s descent down a sloping board, and if possible use it to turn a light on and off during its journey. Using 100g masses, cardboard and masking tape, the students constructed elaborate mazes for their marbles to run through, and came up with creative ways to switch the lights on and off in the process.

‘Sink or Swim’ was one of the most difficult challenges the students faced: given just two sheets of card, two plastic wallets, and sticky tape, they had to build a boat capable of holding the greatest possible mass of marbles without sinking in a tub of water. The teams worked really hard to waterproof their boats and came up with lots of creative ideas for how to increase the buoyancy of the boats to maximise the number of marbles they could hold.

The students’ knowledge of physics principles was put to the test in ‘Rainbow Babies’, where they were asked to calculate the combined mass of three hand knitted dolls. Using just a stand, a spring, a stop-clock, and a set of 100g masses, students had to use their own knowledge to create a graph and then make the right calculations to come up with the answer. There were lots of close answers, and the two best teams were both within two grams of the actual mass of the Rainbow Babies.

 ‘Jelly Baby Towers’ was another construction task, in which students had thirty minutes to build a tower from a limited number of jelly babies and pieces of dry spaghetti, making it as tall as possible. However, as well as being tall, it had to be strong and stable enough to support a hard-boiled egg for ten seconds! Despite the brittle spaghetti, the teams came up with some really creative designs and tall towers that succeeded in holding the egg for the duration of the time limit.

Throughout the day students were asked to complete the ‘Fermi Quiz’ and despite being one of the hardest challenges BSCA won this.

At the end of the day all students met in the Arts Centre for the awards ceremony. While the final scores were added, the Sixth Form pupils gave presentations on some of the physics principles that they had seen in action on the day.

All of the pupils who attended the Physics Olympics were presented with a medal and an Institute of Physics (IoP) goodie bag. The event was held thanks to funding from the Ogden Trust and IoP.

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