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New Zealand Science Teacher

Science Curriculum/Scientific Literacy

Fight your way to Physics victory

Entries are now open for the 2014 New Zealand Young Physicists’ Tournament.

Left: The winning team from the 2013 IYPT final.

Explaining a helix formation and finding a way to convert a candle flame into electricity are just two of the challenges for those competing in the 2014 Young Physicists’ Tournament.

The New Zealand tournament has been running for eight years and provides a wide range of stimulating science encounters for secondary students. Competitors must be school-aged, and tend to be Year 13.

The 2014 Young Physicists’ Tournament is to be held on March 15 in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

These regional tournaments culminate in a national final in Christchurch on March 29, 2014.

NZ tournament chairman and HOD Science at Auckland Grammar School, Gavin Jennings, has been involved in the New Zealand tournament for the past eight years.

He says the top five tournament competitors are chosen to represent New Zealand at the International Young Physicists’ Tournament. This year the international competition will be held at Shrewsbury School in Shropshire, England. Gavin accompanies the Kiwi team and is also an international judge.

The location of the international event changes each year- last year the NZ team travelled to Taiwan to compete.

Above: The 2013 NZ team at the IYPT in Taiwan.

The regional tournaments call for teams of three students to work together solving a series of physics challenges, or ‘problems’ that vary each year. This year, the problems include:

1. Candle Power Plant

Design a device that converts the heat of a candle flame into electrical energy. Investigate how different aspects of the device affect its efficiency.

2. Rubber motor

A twisted rubber band stores energy and can be used to power a model aircraft for example. Investigate the properties of such an energy source and how its power output changes with time.

3. Pot-in-pot refrigerator

The ‘pot-in-pot refrigerator’ is a device that keeps food cool using the principle of evaporative cooling. It consists of a pot placed inside a bigger pot with the space between them filled with a wet porous material, e.g. sand. How might one achieve the best cooling effect?

4. Twisted rope

Hold a rope and twist one end of it. At some point the rope will form a helix or a loop. Investigate and explain the phenomenon.

5. Ball sound

When two hard steel balls, or similar, are brought gently into contact with each other, an unusual ‘chirping’ sound may be produced. Investigate and explain the nature of the sound.

6. Loaded hoop

Fasten a small weight to the inside of a hoop and set the hoop in motion by giving it an initial push. Investigate the hoop’s motion.

7. Magnetic brakes

When a strong magnet falls down a non-ferromagnetic metal tube, it will experience a retarding force. Investigate the phenomenon.

Engaging young minds

Gavin says the physics challenges are robust, and participating students display a range of science and communication skills to take part.

“It’s not a competition where the students sit down and complete an exam paper. Instead, they need to complete practical and theoretical research. They don’t know the answers to any of the problems, and their teachers certainly don’t either.”

After this research process, the students must present their findings to an audience within an allotted time frame, using the ‘best physics they can’. International judges consider their arguments, then competing teams can debate points and ‘battle’ with the presenting team.

“Invariably, these students are working like mad, and they come up with some interesting results. It’s amazing to watch,” says Gavin.

Interested teachers and students can email Gavin Jennings for an entry form: g.jennings@ags.school.nz

Visit http://www.iypt.org.nz/ (soon to be updated) for more information.

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