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Kids show coaster skills at Clarkson physics competition


POTSDAM — Students in grades 7 through 12 showed off their inner theme park designer skills in a roller-coaster competition at Clarkson University on Wednesday.

More than 50 students participated in 13 teams. Each submitted a small roller-coaster track designed for a marble to run, created out of household items.

“I enjoyed working with everyone after school,” said ninth-grader Rhiannon O. Dunn, of Colton-Pierrepont high school. Her four-person team submitted a military-themed coaster, using a vacuum hose from a swimming pool as part of the track.

The competition was the finale of Clarkson’s IMPETUS program, created to get kids engaged in science and mathematics before they head to college.

IMPETUS stands for Integrated Math and Physics for Entry To Undergraduate STEM. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

“This is one way that we can get students in middle school and high school to get more interested in science,” said Clarkson physics professor Michael W. Ramsdell.

Students from nine school districts took monthly trips to Clarkson for programs to promote their interest in these fields, and Clarkson students took trips to the schools to continue the lessons there.

“It’s their opportunity to see what it’s like on a college campus,” Mr. Ramsdell said.

At Wednesday’s competition, students were quizzed on their knowledge of the science behind building their roller coasters. The entries were judged based on their length, adherence to the restrictions set and the complexity of the ride. Each loop counted as five points.

“I’ve always thought for a roller coaster, there’s got to be at least one loop,” said eighth-grader Brandon M. Bogart, of Ogdensburg Free Academy.

His team built a towering coaster out of insulation foam and red plastic cups that had not just one loop, but three, enough to impress the judges and win Ogdensburg the trophy for best coaster.

“It was cool because we could learn a lot more than we do in school,” said seventh-grader Joseph T. Lalonde.

Harrisville Central School took home both second and third places. The third-place coaster was painted pink to honor breast cancer awareness, while the second was decorated with models of the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House and Big Ben.

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