Bolton School Senior Boys

Minds Stretched at Physics Olympics

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Over a hundred Y9 pupils from 18 schools from across the region gathered at Bolton School to compete in the annual Physics Olympics, organised by the School, the Ogden Trust and the Institute of Physics. 31 teams, each with 4 members, took part in five thirty-minute challenges and a Physics Quiz – the Fermi Quiz - that tested their skills and knowledge over the course of the day. Each team was named after a famous Physician from Archimedes to Volta.

When all the overall placings of each team in each task were taken into consideration, it was a Parklands Academy Chorley group that ran out the eventual winners – they even did so with only 3 members as a colleague could not join them at the last minute! Two teams from Priestnall School Stockport took the silver and bronze medals.

The Physics Olympics was run by teacher Mr Ormerod and Bolton School staff with assistance from the lab technicians and Boys’ Division Sixth Form pupils. The Sixth Formers also gave enlightening presentations at the end of the competition to help explain the physics behind some of the answers in the Fermi Quiz.

Mr Ormerod announced the winning teams for each individual event, with first, second and third place in each task receiving medals. All of the pupils who attended the Physics Olympics also received participation medals.

During the day, girls and boys undertook a variety of tasks. The ‘Rainbow Babies’ challenge put pupils’ knowledge of physics principles to the test: they were asked to calculate the combined mass of three hand-knitted dolls using only a stand, a spring, a stop-clock and a set of 100g masses. Pupils were given two methods, one measuring the spring’s oscillations and the other its extension, both of which are based on Hooke’s Law. They then had to use their knowledge and practical abilities to plot a graph before using all of the information to come up with the correct answer.

Pupils had lots of fun creating air-powered rockets in the ‘Bullseye’ task. Each team made their own paper rocket and then fired it along the corridor, aiming to send the rocket through a hoop attached to the ceiling for an extra ten points before landing it on a target, preferably on the bullseye for maximum points! Strategy and aerodynamics were both important for this task although pupils enjoyed launching their creations along the corridor regardless of the outcome!

In ‘Sink or Swim’, the challenge was to create a boat capable of holding the greatest possible mass of marbles without sinking in a tub of water. This was certainly one of the most difficult tasks of the day, as pupils were given just two sheets of card, two plastic wallets and sellotape to work with! Nonetheless, all the teams worked hard to come up with waterproof boat designs and to increase the buoyancy to maximise the number of marbles they could hold.

Another construction task was ‘Jelly Baby Towers’, in which pupils had to build a tower that was capable of holding a hard-boiled egg for ten seconds, using only brittle dry spaghetti and jelly babies! The tallest tower won the task, so pupils had to consider ways to strengthen their designs as well as figure out how to hold the egg at the top.

‘Delayed Timing’ asked pupils to slow a marble’s descent down a sloping board, and if possible use it to turn a light on and off in the course of its journey. The Year 9s quickly discovered that this was not as easy as it appeared. They used 100g masses, cardboard and masking tape to construct mazes for the marbles to run through, and came up with creative ways to switch lights on and off in the process.

Throughout the day, there was also the ‘Fermi Quiz’ to complete: a difficult series of questions that really tested pupils’ knowledge, but a good way to pick up extra marks for those who managed correct answers. The eventual winners of this section was Stockport School.

Mrs Dootson of Bolton School ran a workshop for the teachers and lab technicians from the various schools. It proved a very popular and worthwhile session which gave the visitors a unique opportunity to improve their understanding of physics and they were delighted with their “make and take” kettle man which will assist in the teaching of mains electricity.  


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