Mr. Curtin's Physics 


Physics Olympics Activities


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Aluminum Barge Activity

Honors Physics Version

Each team will construct a "barge" out of a 10 cm  x 10 cm piece of aluminum foil in the time allowed.  The barges will be loaded with pennies.   Winners will be determined by the maximum number of pennies that the barge holds.   You will be given two pieces of foil.  The first will be used for practice.   You will have 10 minutes to practice and then 5 additional minutes to build the final barge with the other piece of foil and to load it.  The barge must remain afloat for 10 seconds after the last penny has been placed aboard and may not touch the sides of the container.

A.P. Physics Version

Students will be allowed 100 square centimeters of aluminum foil and may choose the shape to use for the barge.  Scissors will provided. 

Black Box Activity

Honors Physics Version

Your task is to determine the configuration of the washers on the metal rods in the Black Boxes.  Like many of the ideas in modern physics, you can't really "look in" the boxes.  Your conclusions about the contents must be based on indirect evidence.  You may shake the boxes and remove the rods, but you may not open the boxes.  When you think you know the configuration, mark the diagram below and notify the instructor.  If you are wrong, you may keep trying.  The winning group will be the one with the correct configuration in the least time.

AP Physics Version

This activity uses the same black boxes as the Honors Physics version.  For the AP students, each group designs and constructs a black box for another group.  The winning group is the group that solves their black box configuration first.

Black Box II Activity

This one is similar to the original Black Box situation.  This time the boxes are really cylinders with partitions.  Each cylinder has a tiny ball bearing.  The winning group or individual determines the configuration of three cylinders correctly in the shortest amount of time.

Book Tower Activity

Honors Physics Version

Each group will be given a supply of index cards and a stapler.   Your task, in the time allowed, will be to build a tower to support a specific book.  The book must be supported so that its lowest point is at least 15 cm above the table top.  Each index card costs a dollar, each staple costs a dollar, and each fold in an index card costs a dollar.  You may not use curves,unless the curves are made up of discrete folds.  You are not allowed to put the book (or anything else) on top of your tower until the time limit has expired.  The winning entry will be the one that supports the book in a stationary position for at least 10 seconds and costs the least.

A.P. Physics Version

The rules are the same as in the Honors Physics Version, but the book must be supported so that its lowest point is at least 30 cm above the table top.

Collisions in Two Dimensions Activity

A.P. Physics Version

As a part of our Conservation of Momentum in Two Dimensions Laboratory experiment, students videotape collisions on an air table between a puck with known mass and a puck with unknown mass.  Using the Law of Conservation of Momentum and their measurements of velocities, students calculate the mass of the unknown puck.  The winning group is the one that submits a value closest to the actual mass of this puck. 

Conservation of Mechanical Energy Activity

Honors Physics Version

Your task is to calculate the theoretical landing point for a metal ball which is initially attached to pendulum string and supported so that the string is parallel to the floor.  The ball is dropped and swings down until the string is perpendicular to the floor.  At that point, the string is cut and the ball describes a parabolic path with no initial vertical velocity.  You will have 20 minutes to make measurements, do calculations, and then mark your predicted landing position on a piece of white paper which you have taped to the floor.  You will then place a piece of carbon paper over your white paper and allow the ball to fall.  The winning entry will have the actual landing point closest to the predicted landing point.

A.P. Physics Version

The general rules are the same, except the string is cut when the ball has an initial upward vertical velocity.

Conservation of Energy with Rotational Energy Activity

A.P. Version

This activity relates to an A.P. Physics laboratory experiment in which you will be provided an inclined track and a metal ball.  The ball rolls down the track, onto a level table, and off onto the floor.  You will start the ball at some point on the track and use Conservation of Energy considerations to determine the theoretical landing spot on the floor.  Since some energy is lost due to friction, the ball will not reach that spot.  You will determine the percentage of energy "lost" due to friction and then use that percentage to predict the landing spot when the ball is started from a second height.  The winning entry will land closest to the predicted landing spot for this second ball.

 

Egg Drop Activity

Each group will design and construct a package which has a maximum weight of 5 Newtons, without the egg, using only standard 8.5 inch by 11 inch typing paper and standard 1 inch masking tape.  A Grade A medium (raw) chicken egg will be supplied for each entry.  It must be inserted into the package immediately prior to the drop.  The contestantants will have a maximum of 5 minutes to insert the egg and prepare the package for the drop.  The egg may not be altered in any way.

All packages will be released from the same height, 10 meters, as measured from the bottom of the package.  At the end of the drop, the package must be opened and the unbroken, unaltered egg must be produced within two minutes of the impact.   The scoring will be determined according to the following formula:

N = 1/ (TWL)

   N = Score
   T =  Time between release and impact in seconds
   W = Weight of package in Newtons
    L =  Vertical length of package in meters

Marshmallow Tower Activity

Honors PhysicsVersion

Your group will be given 100 marshmallows and a supply of toothpicks.  Your task is to build the tallest tower possible with these objects in the time allowed for this activity.  The toothpicks may be used in any way but no tape, glue, or other object may be used.  The marshmallows may not be split or altered in any way.  Tower height will be determined by measuring the distance from the table top to the highest point on the tower.  The tower must be able to support itself for at least 10 seconds without moving at all.   The winning entry will be the tallest tower. 

A.P. Physics Version

Your group will be given a maximum of 20 large marshmallows and 20 stirring sticks.  Your task is to build the tallest tower possible with these objects in the time allowed for this activity.  The stirring sticks may be used in any way, but no tape or glue or any other object may be used.  The marshmallows may be divided one time each.  Tower height is measured from the table top to the highest point on the tower.  The tower must be able to support itself for at least 10 seconds without moving at all.  The final score will be based on the following formula:

    ( Total Ht. in cm)  - (2 x # of Marsmallows used) - (1 x # of Sticks used)   =   Your Score

Mass of a Meter Stick

Honors Physics Version

Using a meter stick, a small known mass, and the edge of a table, devise a method to determine the mass of the meter stick.  After using your method to determine the meter stick mass, find its actual mass and calculate a percentage error.  The winning group will have the lowest percentage error.

Match Graph

Honors Physics Version

For this activity you will use our computers and a program called “Match Graph”.  Your task is to match the distance versus time graph as closely as possible.  You will have 10 minutes to run as many trials as possible.  Each person in your group needs to try it at least once.  The winning group this time will be the group with the one best score. 

Meter Stick Cantilever

A.P. Version

Using the 5 meter sticks provided, construct a cantilever arrangement so that the top meter stick projects as far as possible beyond the edge of the table.  The winning entry will be the one that projects the furthest from the edge of the table.  For full credit, you must then calculate and show your calculations for the position of the center of mass of your system as measured from the edge of the table.

Motor Building Activity

A.P. Version

Your task is to use the motor kit provided to build the electric motor.  The winning motor will be the one which will operate continuously for at least 20 seconds at the lowest voltage.  The voltage recorded will be the highest voltage during the 20 second testing period.     

Moving the Earth Activity

Each group will be given a collection of 6 cards which, collective, contain all of the information needed to answer 4 regular questions and two extra credit questions involving a momentum problem.  Each student in a group gets one card and must share the information on his or her card with his partners to answer the questions.  Students are not allowed to actually show their cards to their partners.   The winning group will answer all four questions in the least time. 

One Cent Tower Activity

Honors Physics Version

Your group will be given 30 straws, 1 pair of scissors, and 1 penny.  Your task is to build, in 15 minutes, the tallest tower tower to support the penny.  You may cut the straws in any way, but no glue or tape may be used.  The tower must support the penny in a stationary position for at least 10 seconds.  The height of the tower will be measured from the table top to the lowest point on the penny.

A.P. Physics Version

The A.P. version of this one is similar to the Honors Physics version, except you are allowed to use 50 straws.

Paper Roller Coaster

Using the cardboard parts provided, your group will build a paper roller coaster for a marble.  The roller coaster may not be more than 70 cm tall.  The winning structure will be the one that provides the slowest, continuous ride from the top to the bottom. 

Paper Tower Activity

Honors Physics Version

Your group will be given one sheet of standard-sized typing paper and 50 cm of tape.  Your task is to build the tallest, free-standing structure in the time provided.  Scissors and rulers will be available, but no other construction aids may be used.  The tape may not be used to attach the tower to the table top, wall, or ceiling, and the tower may not touch any surface except the table top.  The winning entry will be the tallest tower that stands in a stationary position for at least 10 seconds.

A.P. Physics Version

Same as above except each group gets two sheets of typing paper and 100 cm of tape.

Parachute Activity

Honors Physics Version

Each group will be given on piece of white paper, 25 cm of aluminum foil, and 20 cm of masking tape.  Your task is to construct a parachute (which must include all of the provided materials) to be dropped from the ceiling.   The winning parachute will require the longest time to complete the trip from the ceiling to the floor.   The parachute must be dropped totally from rest with no initial horizontal velocity.

A.P. Physics Version

Same as above, except each group gets two sheets of paper and 40 cm of masking tape.

RC Lab Activity

A.P. Version

This lab uses the data collected in the RC Laboratory experiment to calculate the resistance of an unknown resistor.  The winning group will have a calculated resistance closest to the actual resistance of their resistor. 

Resonance Tube Activity

This activity is done along with an Honors Physics laboratory experiment, entitled "Resonance: The Speed of Sound", involving the resonance of sound waves in a long tube filled with air. Lab groups are given two tuning forks of unknown frequency.  Using experimental data from their laboratory group, the students calculate the frequencies of the two tuning forks.  The winning group's predicted frequencies are closest to the actual frequencies of the tuning forks.

Shoot the Rocket

Honors Physics Version

This activity involves an "air pressure" rocket.   The rocket is launched straight up one or two times.  Using a stopwatch and the constant acceleration equations, the students calculate the launch velocity of the rocket.   The rocket is then launched with the same initial velocity at a known angle with horizontal.  Students will have predicted the landing position of the rocket, and the winning group will have predicted a landing position closest to the actual landing point.  

A.P. Version

This activity involves an "air pressure" rocket that the students first use in 1st Year Physics.  The rocket is launched at a known angle, and the horizontal range is measured.   The AP students analyze this motion and determine the launch velocity of the rocket.   The rocket will then be launched at a different, known launch angle.  Each group will predict the landing position of the rocket.  The winning group will have predicted a landing position closest to the actual landing position.

Slow Rollers

A.P. Version

Each group will construct a "Slow Roller" using a plastic cylindrical shaft and several metal washers.  Using energy considerations, they will calculate the theoretical time required to roll to the bottom of an incline.  They will measure this time experimentally and the winning group will be the one to have the smallest percentage error.

Soda Straw Arm Activity

Honors Physics Version

Each group will be given 20 drinking straws and 20 straight pins.   Your task is to construct the longest arem that will support a 20 gram mass away from the edge of the table top in the time allowed.  Testing by your team is allowed but the teacher must witness the official trial.  Length will be determined by measuring the horizontal distance from the edge of the table to the nearest edge of the 20 gram mass. 

AP Physics Version

Each group will be given 30 drinking straws and 30 straight pins.  Your task is to construct the longest arm that will support a 50 gram mass away from the edge of the table top.  Testing by your team is allowed, but the judge must witness the official trial.  Length will be measured horizontally from the edge of the table to the nearest edge of the 50 gram mass.

Starburst Bridge

Each group will be given two letter-size sheets of copy paper and two large paper clips. Your task is to design and construct a bridge that will span a 12-inch open space between tables.  You my not attach the bridge to the tables and you may use only the top surface of the tables.   Once built, the bridges will be load-tested with Starburst candies.  The winning design will support the most Starbursts. 

Straw Bridge Activity

Each group will construct a bridge of 25 drinking straws to span a distance of 70 cm in 15 minutes.  The bridge will support a cup holding as many pennies as possible.  The straws may be cut or bent in any way.  No part of the table except the top surface may be used.   The cup must remain stationary with the last penny for at least 10 seconds.  The winning bridge will be the one that supports the most pennies. 

Time Trial Activity

Each group determines the amount of hanging mass required to accelerate a glider up an inclined air track through a distance of 50 cm in exactly 1 second.  The winning group is the one whose glider moves through the distance in a time closest to 1 second.

Toothpick Circle Activity

Honors Physics Version

Each group will be given a pair scissors, 7 straws, 25 toothpicks, and 15 cm of masking tape.  Using only these materials, your task is build a structure that will stand on the finished ends of the toothpicks.  For each finished end of a toothpick touching a circle, the group will receive the number of points printed in that circle.  Only the finished ends of the toothpicks may touch the surface of the circle.  Toothpicks laying down on the board will not receive points. The entire structure must be connected in some way, and the entire structure must be in contact with the "Start" block.  You may use each circle only one time for scoring purposes, and you may not tape any part of your structure to the board or tabletop.   You will have 12 minutes for this activity and the total score will be determined at that time.

A.P. Version

The A.P. Version is the same as the Honors Version except the A.P. students are given five stirring sticks.

TP Drop

A.P. Version

Each group is given a roll of "Special Physics Paper" (Also known as toilet paper).  The task is to calculate the moment of inertia of the roll and then use that value to determine the height from which they must drop it as it unrolls for it to take exactly 1 second to reach the floor.  The winner is the closest to one second. 

Two Bit Tower

A.P. Version

Each group is given 40 straws, 1 pair of scissors, and a quarter.   Using only these materials, your task is to buld the tallest, free-standing structure that will support the quarter in a stationary position for at least 10 seconds.   The height of the tower will be measured from the table top or floor to the lowest poit of the quarter.  The structure may not touch any surface except the supporting floor or lab table. You will have a total time of 15 minutes to complete your structure.

West Point Bridge Contest

This activity uses a computer simulation program developed in the engineering department of the West Point Military Academy.  Students simulate the building of a bridge to span a given distance using available material.  The winning design will be the lowest cost bridge over which a heavy truck can drive.

Wood Splint Bridge Activity

Each group will be given 14 wooden splints and three rubber stoppers from which to construct the longest possible bridge in 10 minutes.  The bridge must be supported by two of the stoppers and must support the third stopper between the inner edges of the first two stoppers.  The splints may not be altered in any way and no outside materials such as tape or glue may be used in constructing the bridge.   The splints may not touch the table top.  The bridge length is measured as the distance from the innermost edge of one of the support stoppers to the innermost edge of the other.  The bridge must be able to support the third stopper in a stationary position for at least 10 seconds.

Wood Splint Cantilever Activity

Each group will be given 40 wooden splints and a 20 gram weight.   Your task is to build the longest cantilever which extends beyond the edge of the table to support the 20 gram weight in the time allowed.  Length of the cantilever will be determined by measuring the horizontal distance from the edge of the table to the nearest point on the 20 gram weight.  The cantilever may bend toward the floor but may not touch the floor.  The cantilever must rest on the table top and may not be supported in any other fashion.