Kempsville Students Take Top Spots at Physics Olympics

Katherine Moss, Staff Writer

 Kempsville swept the podium at the 26th annual Physics Olympics hosted March 22 by Salem High School, one team taking first place outright and other teams tying for second and third. Kempsville students competed with teams from Cape Henry Collegiate, Saint Gregory the Great Catholic School, Grassfield High School, and Princess Anne Middle School.

“We had 19 teams that came from a total of three middle schools and four high schools,” said Dr. David Wright, a physics professor at Tidewater Community College. “Our numbers were down this year because of snow days and other factors. Last year, for example, we had 63 teams coming from 10 schools.”

Teams consisted of four or five members, and two or three teams occupied the same station of an event at a time. Tidewater Community College (TCC), Old Dominion University (ODU), and Busch Gardens sponsored the event, providing physics professors to run the event and amusement park tickets as first-place prizes.

The Physics Olympics included six different events, each one enforcing a scientific principle. Events included Inertia Ball, Paper Airplane Hang Time, Twice as Fast, and Balloon Rally. Each team was given a score out of 100 for each of the events. Physics students from both TCC and ODU helped administer, judge, and score the events.

Inertia Ball consisted of competitors leading a bowling ball with a broom through a maze marked by masking tape. Only four team members were to compete in the event, and the two quickest times were taken to be converted into a score. If a team member were to touch the bowling ball with anything other than the broom, such as a foot, or allow the ball to roll outside of the marked boundaries, time penalties were added for each offense.

 During the event Paper Airplane Hang Time, teams were given two sheets of paper and a paperclip to build the ultimate paper airplane. The flying machines were eventually launched from a balcony and judged based on the amount of time spent in the air.

The event Twice as Fast forced competitors to practice their time management skills. Four team members were each timed separately as they walked quickly down a hallway, but were challenged to return to the other end where they began in half the time, with the best two times being scored.

Balloon Rally pushed competitors to think critically in order to defy the law of gravity. The challenge was to add weight, in the form of paper clips and string, to a helium-filled balloon to make it sink slowly to the ground and, after a quick snip of string, rise slowly back up to the ceiling of the hallway.

Students rotated between events every 30 to 45 minutes and tallied their team’s score along the way before submitting their score sheets after the last event.

The competitors gathered for refreshments while the judges determined the first, second, and third place for both middle and high school teams.

The time finally arrived to give awards. Coming in third place overall were a team of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students from St. Gregory the Great, and a Kempsville team. The winners received various “physics toys,” including the Balancing Bird, which illustrates the concept of the center of gravity.

Tied for second place were teams from Princess Anne Middle School and Kempsville High. Both teams received day passes to Water Country USA.

Finally, the judges honored the first-place Kempsville team and awarded them day passes to Busch Gardens.