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Pupils Enjoy Physics Olympics Challenge

Wednesday, 04 March 2015

The Physics Olympics has once again been held at Bolton School Boys’ Division. Including the Boys’ and Girls’ Divisions, seventeen Ogden Trust Partnership schools from across the north of England took part – with some travelling all the way from Yorkshire for the day!

Each school was invited to send four gifted and talented Year 9 pupils to compete in the Physics Olympics. On arrival, the schools were given a team name for the day, each one representing a famous physicist – from Archimedes and Galileo to Volta and Tesla. After a brief introduction from event organiser Dr Louise Wheatland, who is also the resident Ogden IOP Physics Teacher Fellow at the Boys’ Division, the pupils set off for a series of exciting challenges designed to stretch and test their knowledge of physics.

The activities were wide-ranging and allowed pupils to showcase all of their skills in the subject. However, with just thirty minutes on the clock for each challenge and many of them limited to a certain number of attempts, there was a definite competitive atmosphere throughout the day!

‘Rainbow Babies’ asked the Year 9s to calculate the combined mass of three knitted dolls. The dolls were hand-made by Bolton School’s technicians, and each one contains a different, unknown mass. Using just a stand, a spring, a stop-clock, and a set of 100g masses, pupils had to use their own knowledge to create a graph and make the right calculations to come up with the answer.

The Year 9s’ construction skills were challenged in two of the activities. ‘Sink or Swim’ required them to build a boat capable of floating in a tub of water using two pieces of card, two plastic wallets, and sellotape. The winners of this task were the group whose boat could support the greatest mass of marbles without sinking. The teams came up with a variety of approaches, some focusing on creating a cardboard boat and then ‘waterproofing’ with the plastic wallets, and others using the plastic wallets themselves as a building material to great effect.

The second construction task was ‘Jelly Baby Towers’, in which pupils had thirty minutes to build the tallest tower they could with a limited number of jelly babies and pieces of dry spaghetti. However, the catch was that, in order to count, the tower had to support a hard-boiled egg for ten seconds. Although the tough time-limit beat several teams, other came up with some really creative approaches and impressively tall and strong towers!

In the ‘Delayed Timing’ task pupils were asked to slow a marble’s path down a sloping board from one light gate to another, and use it to turn a light on or off during the run for a ten-point bonus. With a maximum of five adjudicated attempts, the pressure was on to find the best ways to slow down the marble using the cardboard, wood blocks, 100g masses, blue tack and masking tape. The maze-like paths created by the teams made for very interesting marble runs, and there were some really creative ideas for turning the lights on or off to obtain the bonus points.

‘Bullseye’ was one of the Year 9s’ favourite tasks of the day: it asked them to build a paper rocket, which they then had to fire along the corridor using air pressure! The pupils had to figure out the best shape to make their rocket fly not only far enough but also in the right direction to land on target. With points available for landing on the target, and bonuses if they managed to fly it through a hoop attached to the ceiling, there was plenty of enthusiasm for this challenging task. However, several excellent flights proved that it was possible to both send the rocket through the hoop and land on the target!

Pupils were also given the Fermi Quiz to complete over the course of the day. This was one of the toughest parts of the day, but a great way to pick up additional marks!

At the end of the day, the Sixth Form helpers gave short presentations on the physics behind the activity they had overseen during the Physics Olympics. The Rainbow Babies team talked about the mathematics of Hooke’s Law, and the Delayed Timing group talked about resultant forces and how energy is transferred. The Bullseye team gave a presentation about aerodynamics, while the Sink or Swim group spoke about buoyancy and density. The Jelly Baby Towers boys discussed the optimum shape for the tower and how these engineering principles apply in the real world. These were some really interesting presentations which allowed the Year 9 pupils to learn more about the tasks they had been asked to complete.

Then the time came to announce winners. Dr Wheatland commented that the scores this year were particularly close, with very little between them. Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to the top three schools for each individual activity and the quiz, and finally the overall winners were revealed.

Kirkham Grammar School took first place overall and were awarded gold medals and the Physics Olympics trophy. Ladybridge High School came second, and Bolton School Boys’ Division were awarded third place.

All of the pupils were given a participation medal for their achievements, as well as a physics goodie bag provided by the Institute of Physics. Dr Wheatland closed the event by thanking the Boys’ Division teaching staff and Sixth Form pupils who assisted throughout the day, providing explanations and hints, acting as adjudicators, and noting down scores. The Physics Olympics was held thanks to funding from the Ogden Trust.

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The Boys

The Boys' Division team's rocket flies towards the hoop in Bullseye

A group has their Jelly Baby Tower measured

A group has their Jelly Baby Tower measured

Dr Wheatland presents the trophy to Kirkham Grammar School

Dr Wheatland presents the trophy to Kirkham Grammar School