Students who are considered some of Iowa’s top future scientists will be competing in the regional finals of the Physics Olympics today at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Larry Escalada, event coordinator and a physics professor at the University of Northern Iowa, says teams of more than 200 high school students will be taking part in a host of events, like building a small car that only runs on the power of a mousetrap spring.
Escalada says "They have to use the mousetrap as the primary mechanism in order for the car to be able to move. There’s a specific target distance they have to achieve. The closer they get to that particular target, the better chance they have at scoring." Another event involves a self-propelled catapult that has to reach a certain destination, then launch a ping pong ball. Escalada says a third event is called the student-powered water heater.
Escalada says the students are given a quantity of water which has to be placed in a container they construct using available materials, and then they have to raise the water’s temperature as high as they can get it — using only the power of their bodies. He says another challenging event is called the optical slalom, as students have to learn how to bend a laser beam.
Escalada says students are given a fixed pen laser and five mirrors that have to be used to bounce the beam of light around obstacles to reach a target within ten minutes. Students who do well in the regional finals will advance to the state finals at Drake University in Des Moines on April 25th.