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Fun at the Physics Olympics

Wednesday, 01 March 2017

  • Physics Olympics - BSGD pupils with the winning Jelly Baby Tower
  • Physics Olympics - BSBD pupils in Rainbow Babies
  • Physics Olympics - Bullseye
  • Physics Olympics - The winning team and their teacher with the trophy and their prizes
  • Physics Olympics - A Sixth Former times the marble in Delayed Timings
  • Physics Olympics - Jelly Baby Towers fun
  • Physics Olympics - Rainbow Babies
  • Physics Olympics - Sink or Swim
  • Physics Olympics - Bullseye Vertical
  • Physics Olympics - Delayed Timings
  • Physics Olympics - Sixth Former assists a group in Jelly Baby Towers

Pupils in Year 9 from 13 Ogden Trust Partnership schools came together at Bolton School to compete in the annual Physics Olympics. The 123 participating pupils were split into 23 teams for the competition, with each team named after a famous physicist from Archimedes to Volta, and took part in five thirty-minute physics tasks to test their knowledge and skills over the course of the day.

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 this 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, and 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 hold the egg at the top.

‘Delayed Timing’ asked pupils to slow a marble’s descent down a sloping board, and is 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 Physics Olympics was run by Mr Mark 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 further explain the physics behind each of the tasks and some of the real-world applications, from calculating mass without gravity in space to the construction of skyscrapers.

Mr Ormerod announced the winning teams for each individual event, with first second and third place in each task receiving medals. A Boys’ Division team took second place in the Rainbow Babies task, while a team from the Girls’ Division came first in the Jelly Baby Towers challenge. Then the time came to announce the overall winners of the Physics Olympics 2017.

Two teams from Thornleigh took second and third place, but it was the Dirac team from Wellacre Academy who won the trophy. With consistent high scores and podium positions in a number of activities, this was a well-deserved win for the pupils. Alongside the trophy, each member of the team won a copy of Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw’s book The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen.

All of the pupils who attended the Physics Olympics received participation medals before leaving at the end of the day.

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