May 19, 2002
For my birthday we went to the National Science Olympiad. Its a very photogenic event, so lots of photos this week. Some of the Science Olympiad photos were taken by Evan and are used here with permission.
This week also featured a spectacular double rainbow, featured in these pictures taken from the end of our driveway:
We used the Durham Academy gym (left) and a local hotel balcony (right) as our drop test sites. We also used the DA physics tower (not shown). None of these sites offered the required 10 meter (33 foot) height, but all were useful places to gather good data.
The events themselves were not until Saturday. Sher, Evan and I drove up Friday afternoon and evening, joining the team early Saturday morning.
Sher was a bit under the weather, so she dozed while Evan and I took turns driving and refining our computer models of the Cowabungee.
Craig's first event was the Scrambler Car. He and his teammate, Ned, operated a car built by other students who were not able to attend the competition. The car must be powered by a falling 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.) weight. The car carries an egg in front of it. It runs along the floor a preset distance and then stops. At the end of the track is a board. If the egg hits the board and breaks, this is bad. If the egg hits the board and doesn't break, this is not great, but OK. Scoring is determined by 2 runs of the car at the same distance. Both speed and how close you get to the board factor into the score.
Out of 60 teams, DA's Scrambler car placed 40'th.
Craig's second event was the Boomilever. The goal here is to build a cantilever that can hold up to15 kg (33 lbs.). After all of the Boomilevers are impounded they announce a target weight for this contest, which turned out to be 14.1 kg. If your lever breaks, your score is determined by how much weight your lever held. If your lever does not break, it is considered better than all levers that break, and the score is determined by the weight of the lever, with lighter levers scoring higher than heavier ones.
Unfortunately, DA's Boomilever did not quite hold the weight, breaking with a loud boom at 14.0 kg, good enough for 40'th place out of 60.
Cowabungee was Craig's main event. This event was not used in state-level competition in North Carolina, so no one at DA had ever built a Cowabungee or seen a Cowabungee competition. Craig had just 3 weeks to build and calibrate his rig.
Overall, Craig placed 30'th out of 60 in the Cowabungee. And, from watching the drops we learned a lot about how to do better next time. The drop weight is a water bottle. We partially filled our test water bottle to get different amounts of weight. However, it is obvious that the weights used in the competition did not have a liquid sloshing around and complicating things. Next year we'll use sand. We'll also streamline the bottle to reduce air friction.
Note for those interested: the force required to stretch a rubber band is
F = K ( Lo / Ls ) ( Ls - Lo)
where Ls is the stretched length of the band, and Lo is the unstretched length. This formula has the interesting property that as Ls grows to infinity, F approaches a constant value. This in turn suggests that small errors in measuring K will produce large errors in predicting Ls when Ls is large compared to Lo.
I've included a couple of photos from events that Craig did not participate in. These include one where you build a musical instrument. Some of the instruments were truly astounding. On the right is some flavor of Chinese zither.
Many of the Olympiad events are testing or lab events. These are closed to parents and spectators. However, there are enough building events to keep us entertained throughout the day.
One of my favorites is the "Wright Stuff" model airplane competition. Students must build a rubber band powered airplane to a strict set of rules. The airplane must take off from the ground and fly around the gym. You win by flying for a longer length of time than anybody else.
The airplanes are designed to fly up in a helical pattern, circle near the ceiling, and then glide back down. Winning times are over 3 minutes..
The center shot (above) shows a judge with a long pole retrieving a green airplane that got hung up in the basketball goal.
Craig's friend Adam is an expert in this event. We were not able to take pictures of his competition because he flew his airplane at the same time as Craig's Cowabungee competition.
The Wright Stuff competition allows spectators, but spectators may only enter or leave between sessions. During testing and competition the heating and cooling system is shut down and the doors are kept closed to prevent even slight breezes from upsetting the airplanes.
The final event of the day was dinner. Dinner was done in two shifts, with the middle school kids eating first, then the upper school. Dinner was a large affair, with 60 teams of 15 kids plus coaches and spectators. We filled a large basketball arena with tables of 8 or so, each decorated with a centerpiece of helium balloons in U of Delaware colors.
It is a very large room, filled with a lot of curious and talented kids, and many, many helium balloons. I suppose the result was inevitable.
The Olympiad was fun, long, and exhausting. It poured rain all morning, there was no place to park, and the DA team struggled to find its bus, after discovering that two boxes full of crucial supplies had been left on the bus, which then disappeared.
In short, it was a great way to spend my birthday.
Love to you all,