While the international Olympics start Friday in Italy, another version gets underway next week in Cedar Falls. The University of Northern Iowa is hosting one of about a dozen of the state’s regional “Physics Olympics” competitions. U-N-I physics professor Larry Escalada is organizing the event for 200 high schoolers, which includes an event called the self-propelled catapult. Escalada says the student-built catapult has to travel a certain distance under its own power then launch a ping-pong ball at a target.
Other events include building a bridge out of toothpicks, making a mouse-trap-powered car and heating a quantity of water using only the students’ bodies. Escalada says one new event this year is called the optical slalom. He says students are given a laser pointer and five mirrors to use to direct the laser beam around several obstacles and onto a distant target.
High school students taking part are from northeast Iowa high schools, including: Cedar Falls, Dike-New Hartford, Dunkerton, Fairbank, Gilbertville, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, Janesville, Jesup, La Porte City, Nashua-Plainfield, Sumner, Traer, Waterloo and Winthrop. Escalada says students who take part in the Physics Olympics will walk away with a lot more than medals.
After putting together their designs and devices, he says they’ll be instilled with problem-solving skills, team building abilities and the ability to apply their understanding and scientific inquiry. The regional Physics Olympics at U-N-I will be held February 16th. Other regional competitions are being held statewide with the winners from those regional contests going on to the state event at Drake University in Des Moines on April 26.