USU Physics Day at Lagoon May 13: ‘There’s an app for that’

LOGAN – Delightfully warm and sunny weather is expected to emerge just in time for Utah State University’s May 13 Physics Day at Utah’s Lagoon amusement park. The annual rite of spring draws thousands of teens from middle and high schools in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada, who’ll transform Davis County’s überplayground into a giant laboratory to explore such basic physics concepts as gravity, projectile motion, centrifugal force and energy. “Ride the Wave into the 21st Century” is the theme for 2011. This year, Physics Day participants will be able to take 21st century technology and a little ‘physics phun’ home with them in the form of learning activities they can use with their smartphone applications. “Many teens have the latest technology gadgets and if we can provide a way for them to learn from them, we’ve hit a jackpot,” says USU physics student Stephanie Peterson. “Being able to experience physics first-hand and actually solve real-world problems rather than textbook problems is where true learning happens.” For more than 20 years, Physics Day participants have built their own wrist accelerometers to measure G-forces while zooming through roller coaster loops and dutifully writing data into paper notebooks. With new smartphone applications that allow users to collect data with such tools as an electronic protractor, a level, a stopwatch, an acceleration sensor and video analysis, aspiring scientists have even more ways to learn physics while flying through the air, screaming and, hopefully, not losing their lunches. “After collecting the smartphone data, the students can do simple calculations to determine the heights, wave-like motion and velocity of rides,” says Peterson, who developed the activities to complement the applications as part of an undergraduate research project. “We hope students will also learn that they can collect this kind of information all the time — driving to school, riding a bike. We want students to see that they can do physics anytime, anywhere in the palm of their hand.” The day-long event features student participation in Physics Day’s perennially popular activities and competitions, including bombing a giant bull’s eye with raw eggs in self-designed protective containers from the Sky Ride, displaying ideas for thrilling rides of the future, vying in a robotics grudge match and competing in the Physics Bowl academic competition. For the second year, middle and high school teams will compete in an engineering challenge to design and build energy-generating windmills with a chance to advance to the national MESA USA Wind Energy Challenge. While having fun, teens have the opportunity to earn scholarships to USU. “The scholarship I earned at Physics Day as a high school senior helped persuade me to attend Utah State,” says current USU physics student Brian Tracy, a 2011 Goldwater Scholar who graduated from Utah’s Lone Peak High in 2006. “The opportunity to participate in Physics Day was a big motivating factor to study hard.” Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play, he says. “I remember singing the ‘Scotsman’ with my friends and yelling physics formulas while riding the roller coasters,” says Tracy, who serves as vice president of outreach for USU’s Society of Physics Students chapter and is among the army of USU student volunteers who will help with the 2011 event. “In all, Physics Day is a fun experience, where you can be nerdy and appreciated for it.” Initiated by USU’s Physics Department in 1990, Physics Day is coordinated by USU and partners Idaho National Laboratory, Lagoon and the NASA Rocky Mountain Space Grant Consortium, with sponsorships from multiple private and governmental agencies. More than 115,000 young people have participated in the event since its inception and more than $1 million in scholarships and prizes have been awarded to participants.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!