Students apply physics knowledge in competition

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Students from MFL MarMac’s high school physics class tied for fifth place as a team at the State of Iowa Physics Competition held at the University of Northern Iowa on April 9. Sisters Hannah (left) and Summer Schutte placed first in the catapult event.

Keagan Moose (left) and Hailey Smith test their bridge, made up of toothpicks and Elmer’s glue, at the state competition. This year marked just the second time MFL MarMac qualified for state as a team.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Students from MFL MarMac’s high school physics class tied for fifth place as a team at the State of Iowa Physics Competition held at the University of Northern Iowa on April 9. This was just the second time the school had qualified as a team, after winning the local Physics Olympics in Monona in March.

“Although the school has competed in Physics Olympics before, this was my first year being involved, so it was really new to all of us,” said teacher Cheryl Drowns. “To get to state is a huge achievement.”

One of her goals this year was to give students a chance to compete in science.

“I think it’s a big motivator and pushes them to perform their best and problem solve. I also think it is beneficial to them to get with other students with similar interests and get an idea of where science can take them in the long run,” she said.

MFL MarMac’s success was capped off by a first-place finish by Summer Schutte and Hannah Schutte in the catapult event, which challenged how far they could launch a ping-pong ball from a starting line to three given targets.

Nathan Johanningmeier and Eden Heying placed seventh in the soda straw arm event, using just 12 jumbo plastic, clear straws and ​10 straight pins to construct the longest arm, from their own team design, that would support a 50-gram mass hanging from a 30-centimeter string and attached to a number-one smooth paper clip bent into an “S” shape.

In the mouse trap car category, which tests how far a mouse-trap powered car built by the students can travel, Hanna Dickman and Chloe Diehl finished eighth.

Diehl and Haylie Smith also worked together to place ninth for the challenge problem.

“You had to find the mass of an unknown object and they gave you a bunch of different things, like a spring and a ruler,” Diehl explained. “And you don’t know what you get until the day of.” 

“We’re supposed to memorize laws so we can explain why we found what we did and the way we did it,” Smith added.

In the final event, bridge building, students are judged on how well a bridge constructed of tooth picks and Elmer’s glue can withstand force. Smith and Keagan Moose finished 13th.

Johanningmeier said the students picked their own partners and the event in which they wanted to participate. They spent weeks preparing.

For example, although the soda straw arm had to be created the day of the event, he said the group practiced making at least 20 ahead of time in order to prepare.

“We build our design and everything before we go,” Heying said.

With the mouse trap car, Diehl and Dickman had already made them individually for a physics class lab. For competition, noted Dickman, “we had to fix it to go a different length.”

The few days before state were the most stressful.

“Everything was not working for us,” Dickman said, and they questioned how well they would do.

Like the other events, bridge building also involved a lot of trial and error, said Moose.

“We did three models of it” beforehand, she shared, “adjusting what worked and what didn’t work.”

Their bridge for the local Physics Olympics was completed just the day before competition, Smith said. It was a similar situation when they went to state.

“It takes a long time, especially for ours, because it has to dry,” Moose said. 

It was nerve racking when they got to state and saw all the other bridges.

“None of them are similar,” she explained, “so you don’t know what’s going to work.”

The Schutte sisters chose the catapult because it was something fun they’d never tried before. 

“We really didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t really know much of what we’d be doing and if our catapult was even good enough,” Summer admitted. “Weeks prior, Hannah and I spent our physics class period in the gym, launching and getting it as close to target as possible.”

In the lead up to state, they didn’t want to over-test the catapult and stretch out its rubber band. The sisters even tried using a laser to make the launch more accurate, but it didn’t work as well as planned.

“We only tested it a few more times prior to the state competition to get a little closer than before,” Summer said.

At state, she believes it was the catapult’s bow mechanism trigger, which released the arm, that set the group apart.

“We became more accurate that way, instead of pulling it back ourselves,” Summer remarked.

“For us being sisters, building and working together on the project wasn’t always easy,” she added, “but in the end, we were happy we came out on top. This is probably one of the last projects we get to do with each other before we go off to college.”

The state competition included approximately 150 students from 21 different schools around the state of Iowa. Drowns said it gave her students an opportunity to not just face other top individuals, but see how much they’ve learned throughout the year.

“They practiced valuable lab skills and problem skills and really enjoyed the challenge,” she said.

Dickman said the team learned the value of reading and re-reading directions, while Summer Schutte realized everyone has a different way of making a project work. Smith gained valuable time management skills.

“If you run out of time at the end and you’re trying to finish it, it’s not going to be as good as it could have been,” she said.

Heying said the physics competitions were fun and a good break from book work.

“We do a lot of worksheets, so it was different to actually do something hands-on,” Johanningmeier stated.

“It’s nice to know you’re applying physics,” Dickman noted.

Moose hopes the team’s success will encourage other students to take physics as an elective.

“This is way different because you don’t hear about kids going to state for anything other than sports,” she said. “Something for academics is kind of a change.”

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