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Science and Engineering Challenge

Science and Engineering Challenge

Author: Gay Ellyett
Author Role: Coordinator: Exceptional Scientists' Program

The Science and Engineering Challenge is a nationwide STEM outreach program presented by the University of Newcastle. Students experience aspects of Science and Engineering which they would not usually be exposed to in the classroom. A goal is to inspire students in Year 10 to consider a future career in science and engineering by choosing to study the supporting sciences and mathematics in Years 11 and 12. The competition comprises eight challenges each identified by a different colour. Schools are able to enter a maximum of four students in each challenge. Eight schools compete on each day and the event is run on many different days across Australia. Each of the eight challenges is scored and a cumulative score determines places on each day. The highest scoring schools will be invited to compete in the finals later in the year. Students from each team have written stories about the challenge below.

Pink Team

Daniel Carton, Rebecca Leonard, Hannah Seymour-Smith and Tom Russell

Our first challenge was Return to Mars. We had to build a vehicle that was able to traverse an undulating surface without toppling a wooden block sitting vertically on it. We got points for both how far and how quickly it took us to transport blocks, and we were given three tries for the small and medium block while only two for the large one. We were given the chassis and mechano-like parts to build the frame for the wheels. We came up with several ideas on how to keep it from tipping too much. This worked, but the platform for the block moved too violently for the larger blocks to stay standing on so we had to problem solve. The front wheel of each set would affect the back one whenever it came over a bump, so we used rubber bands to hold the front wheel up from the ground so that it would only get pulled down when the back wheel hit a mound. This design worked far better and allowing us to get the most points in our session.

Future Power was designed to model the Australian power industry. Our task was to supply power to a theoretical town. The activity entailed 12 different scenarios, with different rules relating to renewable vs fossil fuel power sources. Our task was to find the cheapest combination of energy sources for each scenario, and then feed the electricity into the grid using a system of dials and switches, which controlled the power flow and the load. If the difference between the supply and the load was more than 55 MW, than the system would overload, and we would have to start again. This task required intense concentration, quick communication, mathematical thinking, and teamwork. Our strategies and close teamwork resulted in us smashing the previous high score and giving us another win.

Silver Team

Kate Fitzgerald, Abby Hansen, Brodie Kealley and Paige Smith

In Stringways, we had to connect different towns on a board with string, following only the designated black lines and trying to save as much string as possible. There were twelve scenarios to work through in a given timeframe, each with different goals and rules. One of the moderate scenarios was to touch every “city” on the board with our string, alternating between red and blue cities. This encouraged us to think hard and strategize our pathways. It was interesting to see the many approaches taken by each school. Some flew through the scenarios, losing many points on the way, while our group took a steady approach, carefully thinking out each scenario. This tactic worked, and we came away with first place.

During the second half of the day we participated in Grasping at Straws. The objective was to build a functioning bionic hand using straws, tape, and string. Just before the testing of our hand one of the fingers fell off, causing mild panic, but we managed to fix it just in time for the testing. Our hand was not as successful as other schools, however we still managed to gain a few points which benefited the overall score for the College.

Blue Team

Simone Gloag, Claudia Persal, Kate Burger and Alyssa Phillips

All the challenges involved building structures out of unconventional materials. In our challenge, Flatpack, we had to make a table and chairs out of paper, card, paddle pops, rubber bands and paper clips. Each constructed item had to withstand Ginger the cat (1 kilogram) and Spot the dog (2.5 kilogram) sitting on it individually, together and dropping on it from various heights. Furthermore, we had to purchase our materials and the cost of materials and the weight were subtracted from the points earned for the weight that the table and chairs held.

We enjoyed working and sharing ideas with new people. It forced us to think of new ways to approach different problems that arose during construction and leave our comfort zones. When testing our structures, we could see how other schools built their tables and chairs, and how ours could have been stronger if we implemented different designs and techniques. Our knowledge of structures has broadened after this excursion.

Yellow Team

Matthew Sloman, Louis Thompson, Sam Clark and Ben Mollee

The Return to Mars challenge required us to make suspension for a Mars rover out of limited materials. This was very interesting and challenging and required us to work as a team to develop a solution. We developed an effective system of suspension and managed to win this challenge.

The Future Power activity was great fun and allowed our team’s competitive side to show as we worked through the activities with speed and accuracy. The challenges required excellent communication and helped us work together as a team.

We enjoyed the element of competition in the activities, as it encouraged us to try our hardest. Both activities required quick thinking and teamwork to succeed. This made the day fun yet challenging.

Orange Team

Justin Trethewey, Naveen Hingorani, Jessica Muir and William Wright

Our first challenge was Grasping at Straws. We had an hour to make a bionic hand from basic crafting materials such as straws, string and tape. The fingers were then attached to a wrist mount and aimed to mimic the behaviour of a real human hand. A series of small tests including picking up a juggling ball, a rubber ball and a single straw contributed to the overall point score for this challenge. The construction of the hand was extremely difficult, but through persistence, teamwork and awesome ideas, we completed all but one task, the juggling ball. Extra points could have been scored through manipulation of hand gestures from the American Manual Alphabet; however, due to a breakage we were forced to retire. We were proud of our creative construction and walked away with an overall second in the challenge.

Stringways was a challenging activity involving resource management, time efficiency and teamwork. The objective was to complete as many scenarios as possible, in order to obtain the most points possible. There were 12 scenarios in increasing difficulty, involving using pieces of string on a board to mimic a railway system. Some scenarios involved using one or two different coloured strings, and utilising coloured bolts to represent key landmarks for the scenarios. Points were deducted for missing bolts and other identified obstacles. Our objective was to complete the scenarios quickly, but efficiently. Each scenario involved complex decision making to ensure we used as few resources as possible while still gaining enough points to make up for the deduction of missing stations. This required teamwork and good communication. Overall, we came second and were very happy with how well our team did.

Green Team

Ashley Gill, Brooke Llewellyn, Kashmere Schafer and Emma Gamble

We participated in Helter Skelter and Confounding Communications. Helter Skelter involved building two towers, one that could withstand an earthquake simulator and another that could hold weight. We could only use eight pieces of paper, three meters of tape, eight straws and the tower had to be a minimum of 35 centimeters. The first task was to build a tower that could hold as much weight as possible. By trying several different ideas and fiddling with the material we eventually found a structure that could hold three weights before breaking on the fourth. In the second task, we had to create a tower that could withstand an ‘earthquake’ whilst also holding weight. We decided to recreate our first building but also making a few alterations mostly regarding the stability. When we took our tower up to the earthquake simulator, the tower was 45 centimeters. We decided to test one weight first. Thankfully the 30 seconds of the earthquake simulator ended, and our tower survived. We then added another two weights making it a total of three. Even though the tower ended up falling we were still very proud of our efforts and had heaps of fun working together.

During the Confounding Communications challenge we as a team had to come up with codes to be able to send and receive messages though a device where we pushed certain buttons and colours would come up. These colours were utilized to make codes. We were placed on either side of a table with a black sheet covering up the middle so that the senders could not see the receivers. This challenge was enjoyable making us really work hard as a team to complete it and get the best score to help our College win the competition.

Red Team

Penny Spears, Rosemary Grant, Charlotte Beavers and Juliet Munro

Our first activity was Helter Skelter Shelter, which involved us making two towers out of plastic straws, paper and taper. One tower had to hold as many weights as possible and the other had to hold weights while standing in an earthquake simulator. We started with the static structure first and made a rectangular prism with trusses mostly out of rolled paper joints and cut straws. Unfortunately, we ended up running out of tape, so our structure wasn’t stable at the joints and ended up twisting when we put on the weights. Our second structure didn’t go much better than our first. We had a lot less time to make this one and half way through, we realised we wouldn’t have time to finish so we just started sticking materials on top, so we could get more points for height. In the end, this activity wasn’t the most successful out of the two we participated in; however, we had great fun and certainly learnt a lot about structures.

In the Confounded Communications activity we were required to step into a world of espionage, and became spies tasked with a code to send to two other members of our team. The problem–we were connected only by optical fibres that sent the colours: green, red and blue. The activity consisted of three stages, each stage having increasingly complicated codes to decipher (our last stage had 36 symbols!). Our team performed extremely well, receiving close to full marks on three out of the four codes provided. Overall, it was an incredibly enjoyable day, filled with hands-on learning that further enhanced our appreciation for STEM.

Purple Team

Jasmine Dawkins, Alyza Jeffery, Taite Logan and Hannah Schultz

Ours was the bridge building challenge, where in a certain time frame we constructed a sturdy bridge to hold the weight of a cart and ingots that travelled from one end of a rig to another. We met with our instructor as he explained the conditions and point system, and eventually set off to make our bridge with only a few bits of balsa, tape, paddle pop sticks and cardboard. We spent time brainstorming and making constant repeated measurements to make sure our bridge was the best fit.

When the time came to test our bridge in front of not only our schoolmates, but every other school that had competed on the same day, the tension was high. After three ingots had travelled across safely, it was clear our bridge was in trouble as a slight lift in the track was causing a heightened pressure landing and cracks were beginning to show. With no way to fix it, we reached our demise after carrying a load of four ingots but still managed to take out second place. CHAC chorused when we heard the announcement that we came first in the competition.