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A Bolton School Girls’ Division team fires their rocket down the corridor in Bullseye

Up to the challenge

Eleven schools compete in scientific challenges for annual Physics Olympics

Posted by Stephanie Broad | March 23, 2016 | School life

Year nine pupils from eleven north-west Ogden Trust Partnership schools recently battled it out in a series of scientific challenges at the annual Physics Olympics.

The popular event was hosted by the Bolton School Boys’ Division and organised by Dr Louise Wheatland, the resident Ogden IoP Physics Teacher Fellow in the Boys’ Division. Sixth form boys, studying physics at A-level, volunteered their time to help run the activities and total up the scores alongside Boys’ Division teaching staff and technicians.

A Bolton School Boys’ Division team calculating the mass of knitted dolls in Rainbow Babies

Bolton School Boys’ and Girls’ Division each sent two teams of four gifted and talented pupils, as did Atherton Community School, ESSA Academy, St James’s C of E High School and Westhoughton High School. A further five schools sent individual teams: Derby High School, Our Lady’s Catholic High School, Sharples School, Turton High School and Witton Park Academy. Each team was named after a famous physicist – from Schrödinger and Hawking to Archimedes and Galileo – before being sent to complete a series of tasks, each designed to test their skills and knowledge about the subject.  

Students had 30 minutes to complete each challenge, with many tasks limited to a specific number of attempts.  

In the ‘Bullseye’ challenge, year nine pupils were asked to build a paper rocket, which they then had to fire along the corridor using air pressure. There were 10 extra points to be gained for sending the rocket through a hoop hanging from the ceiling, but potentially 25 or 50 to be gained from landing somewhere on the bullseye itself. Tactics therefore came into play as well as aerodynamics.

The ‘Delayed Timing’ task asked pupils to slow a marble’s descent down a sloping board, and if possible use it to turn a light on and off during its journey. Using 100g masses, cardboard and masking tape, the year nines constructed elaborate mazes for their marbles to run through, and came up with creative ways to switch the lights on and off in the process.

The winning Westhoughton High School team with the trophy. L-R: Dr Louise Wheatland (Bolton School Boys’ Division Ogden IoP Physics Teacher Fellow), Jasmine Gower, Krishna Lilley, Katie Hadgraft, Sean Chadwick, and Westhoughton High School teacher Mrs Rebecca Nassau

Other tasks included boat building, calculating mass and constructing a tower from edible ingredients.   

At the end of the day, pupils convened in the Arts Centre for the awards ceremony. While the final scores were tallied, the sixth form pupils gave insightful presentations on some of the physics principles that the year nine students had seen in action on the day.

One team from Westhoughton High School was the overall winner, receiving the Physics Olympics trophy from Dr Wheatland. An Atherton Community School team came in second place, and Turton High School took third place. 

All of the pupils who attended the Physics Olympics received participation medals and an Institute of Physics (IoP) goodie bag before leaving at the end of the day. The event was held thanks to funding from the Ogden Trust and IoP.    

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