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PhysicsQuest Winners Collect Grand Prize at Institute in Princeton

PhysicQuest
The winning Physics class meets at the Institute of Advanced Study with John Bahcall (center), Richard Black Professor of Natural Sciences and the retiring President-elect of APS (see election preview item in this issue). In the front row of the picture are (l to r): Emily Oliver, Lacey Stogdill, Danielle Cain, John Bahcall, Amanda Burkey, Morgan Wickersham and Julie Mooney. In the back row are: John Avey, Zachary Butcher, Kelsey Mooney, bubblegum-chewing Michael Hoffmann, and Randy Schmitz.
Photo credit: James Riordon

What do: the World Year of Physics 2005 celebration…a contest grand prize trip to New Jersey…a teacher and nine of her 9th grade students from Iowa…an enormous linden tree in New Jersey…a secret treasure…and an exploding hydrogen-filled balloon…have in common? All of them figured into the APS-sponsored PhysicsQuest contest grand prize trip to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton on May 20-22.

Julie Mooney and her class of nine 9th graders from St. Albert Catholic Schools in Council Bluffs, Iowa were the grand prize winners of the PhysicsQuest, a World Year of Physics 2005 educational project aimed at 5th to 9th graders across the United States. They were randomly chosen from among the 87 classes who submitted correct results in time for the April 22 contest deadline.

Mooney, two other chaperones, and her group of nine students flew to New Jersey to collect the PhysicsQuest "secret treasure" in person at the appointed time and location somewhere on the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.

Arranged as a treasure hunt, PhysicsQuest was a set of four experiments designed to promote awareness of basic physical principles in the areas of harmonic motion, the diffraction of laser light, magnetism, and soap bubble configurations on a wire frame.

It was made possible by financial support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and Cadmus Communications.

Though the Institute grounds sprawl over 800 acres of forest and fields, the treasure spot was beneath an enormous linden tree near the back of Fuld Hall, the Institute’s central building.

Revealed at the 2 o’clock hour on May 21, the treasure consisted of a 5-inch reflecting Meade telescope with automatic drive for the class, and iPod Shuffles for each student.

This was the first time ever in New Jersey for Mooney, her husband Greg, fellow teacher Randy Schmitz, and her students, including her daughter Kelsey, who has her mom as a teacher in two classes.

"There are so many trees and lots to see," said 15-year old Michael Hoffmann. He contrasted the leafy suburban landscape of central New Jersey to the open rural spaces around Walnut, Iowa, where he lives and where his grandfather owns and operates a family farm 10 miles outside of town.

Like his classmates, Hoffmann volunteered to do the PhysicsQuest experiments before and after classes. He was seeking extra credit, and personal circumstances allowed him to come in early and stay late on the two consecutive days it took to do the experiments.

The group was treated to a physics show by David Maiullo from the physics and astronomy department of nearby Rutgers University.

Maiullo’s traveling physics road show "Dave’s Dazzling Demo" is an hour-long, occasionally dramatic presentation of a variety of physical phenomena. The show featured demonstrations of buoyancy (with a bowling ball floating in water), sound waves (using a series of gas-fed flames in a perforated pipe), air pressure (pumping air from an oil barrel until it implosively decompressed), and conservation of momentum (using a cart, a fire extinguisher, and Maiullo himself).

After exploding a hydrogen-filled balloon with a flame, Mauillo pointed out how close Princeton is to Lakehurst, N.J., site of the Hindenburg disaster in 1937.

Following the visit to the Institute, the group spent the afternoon at the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park.

Gray arrow Learn more about PhysicsQuest.


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