'This is the stuff that we'll need in life'

March 21, 2017

ERIE, Pa. — As their hovercraft levitated down the metal track, Jacob Baum and Tyler Hansen counted aloud.

Baum crossed his arms while Hansen raised his hands behind his head. Their eyes grew wider with every inch that the hovercraft moved. Nineteen seconds later, those wide eyes were still there, but they were now accompanied with bright smiles.

“We had a good feeling about this, but you never know for sure,” said Baum, an eighth-grade student at North East Middle School. “We were counting in our heads, and when we saw it was close to 21 seconds (the target time to get down the track), a lot of the pressure was relieved.”

The hovercraft competition was one of 46 science-related events that more than 400 area middle- and high-school students participated in at the regional Science Olympiad, held this March at Penn State Behrend. A total of 34 school districts attended the event.

From early morning through the afternoon, students flew rubber band-powered gliders, launched rockets and tested the strength of towers all in an effort to show off their science knowledge.

Baum and Hansen took a particular interest in the hovercraft activity, a new addition to this year’s Science Olympiad. For the event, teams were required to build a self-propelled, air-levitated vehicle powered by two batteries and a propeller. Each craft then had two trial runs to hover down the track as closely as possible to the target time of 21 seconds.

“It’s a really good engineering task, but there’s also some good physics involved as well,” said Brian Burford, a physics teacher at Clarion Junior Senior High School who led the hovercraft activity. “Students need to take a look at things like airflow to help their vehicle make it down the track.”

Baum and Hansen positioned adjustable cards at the back of their craft. They could open and close them to adapt for air flow.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on this and would go to each other’s houses after school,” said Hansen, also an eighth-grade student at North East Middle School, who hopes to one day be an engineer. “Overall, we probably put at least 12 hours into this.”

Those after-school get-togethers paid off.

In Division B (seventh- and eighth-graders), their team finished in first place, helping North East Middle School earn an overall first place finish in the division.

“This has been a really good day,” Baum said. “This is the stuff that we’ll need in life, especially for the careers that we want.”


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 21, 2017