Students face off in roller coaster science competition

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A math and science test might not sound like much fun, but, you've probably never seen a test like this.

It's an exam that leaves pen and paper behind, and encourages students to tackle the subjects that can lead to high tech jobs.

As the steel ball bearing dropped and rolled round and round the track at Scottsdale Community College, it  looked a lot  like a game of chance. But, in fact, very little in this competition was left to chance.

“So we went with the smallest loop so we would lose the least energy on the loop and have more to go up the hill," says Riley Waechter, a student at Mesquite High School.

“Everything is going to stay the same except you have friction which will slow it down,” adds Nate Howard from Highland High.

They were among the dozens who showed up for the 19th annual Math and Science Field Day at Scottsdale Community College.

“We had 18 schools from all over the Valley come down and compete in a math exam, a science team question and answer kind of thing, and then a project competition,” explains SCC Math professor Patricia Dueck.

The idea is to introduce students to SCC but also to show that math and science are fun. “For these types of students to see there are so many people out there who have the same types of interests as them, and it makes for a fun day,” Dueck says.

The competition this year was to build a roller coaster, with some exacting specifications. “The initial drop had to be a meter, or a half meter off the ground.  And, then it had to have a hill that was at least 12 cm high and one loop, and then it had to roll to a stop without rolling backwards," she explains.

But, to get there, students must bring what they learn in class to life, “Most of ours was all done through energy concepts. So that we took the initial potential energy it had from its initial height, and that transfers into all the other energy that travels through the system,” says Waechter.

Mesquite won the competition. The Highland High team came in second.

It's the kind of competition these students hope will also convince others to take a chance on math and science.

“Once you get past the boring stages of math and into the more fun and real world applications it becomes really cool," says Waechter.

SCC also offered several scholarships based on the science fair, another great incentive to get kids involved in STEM studies.