APS News

APS Picks Grand Prize Winner in PhysicsQuest Competition

APS Treasurer Tom McIlrath picks the winning PhysicsQuest class while an honored guest looks on approvingly. Photo Credit: James Riordon
APS Treasurer Tom McIlrath picks the winning PhysicsQuest class while an honored guest looks on approvingly.
Photo Credit: James Riordon

Eighty-seven pieces of paper swirled inside the drum, and then APS Treasurer Tom McIlrath reached in to pick the winner of the PhysicsQuest competition.

Among the entries, from classes in grades 5 through 9 around the country, that had arrived at APS by the April 22 deadline, 87 had correctly found the answer to the contest: the time and exact location on the 800-acre grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton at which Einstein’s treasure would be revealed. But only one class would get the grand prize: an all expenses paid trip to the Institute, where, at the appointed hour on May 21, each student would receive an Apple iPod Shuffle, and the class as a whole would receive a reflecting telescope.

PhysicsQuest was conceived and carried out by APS in celebration of the World Year of Physics. Funding was provided by the DOE’s Office of Science and the NSF, together with an additional grant from Cadmus Communications Corporation for the prizes.

The winners determined by McIlrath’s fateful foray into the drum were from the 9th-grade class of Julie Mooney at St. Albert Catholic Schools in Council Bluffs, Iowa. "We are shocked, so excited, so thrilled," said Mooney. "I am in awe of Einstein. It is unbelievable that my students will get to walk on the grounds where he did his work."

Her students were likewise startled and joyful upon learning they had won the grand prize trip.

"I’m really excited. It doesn’t seem real," said 15-year old Danielle Cain.

Seconding this feeling was her classmate Amanda Burkey. "When I started the experiment, I didn’t think we would win," she said. "So when I found out I was just in complete shock!"

Mooney and her class were among the 1362 teachers and their combined total of over 69,000 students from all 50 states who signed up for the PhysicsQuest project.

PhysicsQuest is a set of four experiments designed to illustrate basic physics principles including pendulum motion, shapes of bubbles, laser light diffraction, and magnetism. It is organized as a treasure hunt to find the exact spot–using a map of the Institute for Advanced Study’s grounds–and time the prizes are to be revealed.

Teachers who signed up but did not meet the deadline for the trip are eligible for a second chance to win the prizes, although not the trip, provided they successfully completed the experiments by Memorial Day weekend. Another drawing will determine the second winner. A report on the events at the Institute on May 21, and on the results of the second drawing, will appear in the July APS News.

Mooney has taught math and science for 14 years starting out in Denver, Colorado and then in Iowa, and she hopes to incorporate the background material into her curriculum next year.

Her trip to New Jersey will be her first to the East Coast. "You would not believe how much we are looking forward the trip," Mooney said. "I’ve never been out East and I don’t think many of my students have been, either."

 


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