Bolton School Senior Girls

Pupils Compete at 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 once again hosted by the Boys’ Division and organised by Dr Louise Wheatland, the resident Ogden IoP Physics Teacher Fellow in the Boys’ Division. Sixth Form boys studying physics at A Level volunteered their time to help run the activities and total up the scores alongside Boys’ Division teaching staff and technicians.

Bolton School Boys’ and Girls’ Division each sent two teams of four gifted and talented pupils, as did Atherton Community School, ESSA Academy, St James’s C of E High School and Westhoughton High School. A further five schools sent individual teams: Derby High School, Our Lady’s Catholic High School, Sharples School, Turton High School and Witton Park Academy. Each team was named after famous physicist – from Schrödinger and Hawking to Archimedes and Galileo – before being sent to complete a series of tasks, each designed to test their skills and knowledge about the subject.

With just thirty minutes to complete each challenge, and many tasks limited to a specific number of attempts, there was certainly a competitive atmosphere to the Physics Olympics.

‘Bullseye’ was one of the highlights: the Year 9 pupils 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 pupils 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 Year 9s 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 pupils faced: given just two sheets of card, two plastic wallets, and sellotape, 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 pupils’ knowledge of physics principles was put to the test in ‘Rainbow Babies’, where they were asked to calculate the combined mass of three knitted dolls, each one hand-made by Bolton School’s technicians. 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 then make the right calculations to come up with the answer. Dr Wheatland was particularly impressed with the Year 9s’ performance on this task: 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 pupils 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.

The Year 9 pupils were also asked to complete the ‘Fermi Quiz’ throughout the day and over lunchtime. Despite being one of the hardest challenges of the day, some of the pupils did extremely well and picked up additional marks with their correct answers.

At the end of the day, pupils convened in the Arts Centre for the awards ceremony. While the final scores were tallied, the Sixth Form pupils gave insightful presentations on some of the physics principles that the Year 9s had seen in action on the day.

Finally, the time came to announce the winners. First, second and third places were awarded for each of the activities, with these teams winning medals for their efforts. The Girls’ and Boys’ Divisions did well, with the girls’ teams taking third place in the Bullseye activity and the gold medals for their performance in Delayed Timings, and the boys’ teams winning silver medals for Bullseye and Jelly Baby Towers tasks and joint first place with Witton Park Academy in the Rainbow Babies challenge.

Then the overall winners were announced, with one team from Westhoughton High School receiving the Physics Olympics trophy from Dr Wheatland. An Atherton Community School team came in second place, and Turton High School took third place.

All of the pupils who attended the Physics Olympics received participation medals and an Institute of Physics (IoP) goodie bag before leaving at the end of the day. The event was held thanks to funding from the Ogden Trust and IoP.

A Girls' Division team fires their rocket down the corridor in the Bullseye task

A Girls' Division team fires their rocket down the corridor in the Bullseye task

The winning Westhoughton team have the height of their Jelly Baby Tower measured by a Sixth Form assistant

The winning Westhoughton team have the height of their Jelly Baby Tower measured by a Sixth Form assistant

One of the Boys' Division teams on the Rainbow Babies task

One of the Boys' Division teams on the Rainbow Babies task