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Physics Olympics

Physics Team, Contributor

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The Physics Engineering and Mechanics Club, a first-year club at Clifton High School, entered its first competition on January 13th, 2018 at Monmouth Regional High School. It was a state competition hosted by The New Jersey Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (NJAAPT). Of the 48 teams that attended from all over the state, we brought four teams. Of the four, one of our teams took home the 1st place trophy by having the highest combined score out of the six events that took place that day.

We first heard about the competition in mid October and were asked to observe so that we could bring teams from Clifton in future years. As a teacher I got excited by the event, but I had no intention of just observing. I told the club (Physics and Engineering Club) about it in November and we all got very excited. From the middle of November, we started to prepare for the competition by trying out different events each day the club met. The students were quite enthusiastic about it, and many times I had to force them to leave my classroom at around 5pm. I was most impressed with how much support club members provided each other leading up to the competition. Despite knowing that every team would be a potential rival the different teams would often share their best methods and practices. As a teacher it made me feel that when one team won we all won. I strongly believe having this kind of unity is what brought victory for our school.

During the award ceremony, neither myself nor any of the teams thought we had a chance of winning. This was our first time coming to the event and everyone just seemed to be doing so much better than us. As the many different awards were being announced, Clifton Team #1 placed third place for the Greatest Acceleration Car. As a coach, I was happy that we had any recognition at all. Finally, when the announcer started to go through the overall winners for the competition, he ended by declaring that Clifton Team #1 had scored the most points. No one had any thought of this being a possibility and the room was completely silent, only to be disrupted by a loud “What!?” coming from one of the students of Clifton High School. Every Clifton team member rushed to the front of the room, cheering and taking pictures, and completely dominating the atmosphere.

It was hard to imagine that there was even a remote possibility for us winning, but when I look back at that day, it made sense. Even though Team #1 may not have initially excelled at any one particular event, they had consistently done pretty good at each and every event. It was a great lesson for myself about how focusing on the highlights of everyone around us can cause us to perceive ourselves as being mediocre, when in reality, that is so far from the truth.

Here are the six events that took place that day:

Fermi Questions:

This event consisted of 10 physics questions which seeks a fast, rough estimate of a quantity which is either difficult or impossible to measure directly. For example a question could ask, “How many sheets of paper would it take to build a stack that reached the moon?” And using your knowledge of mathematics, physics, and some estimation you can try to get an estimate that as close as possible to the actual answer. The closer you get to the actual answer the more points you are awarded.

Grab Bag:

This was a challenge where students were brought random materials in a bag and given an engineering task to build something. On the day of the event it was unveiled that the teams needed to build a structure made out of spaghetti with a giant marshmallow on top. The team being able to build the tallest tower without having it collapse would be awarded the most amount of points for the event.


( Clifton Team # 2 Building their Tower [Asami Maruyama])







(Clifton Team #4 Building to a height of 43 cm Having one of the tallest structures for the event (Mankiewicz, Michael))

Penny Cantilever:

Teams had 100 pennies to build a structure that extended over the edge of a table. The team that was able to have the longest  extension of pennies off the table would be awarded the most points for the event.

(Clifton Team # 1 reaching 4.4cm off the edge [Carlos Mesa])


Greatest Acceleration Car:

Teams had to build a car, that was powered by a mouse trap, that would have the greatest acceleration on a one meter track. This was something that needed to be built before the event started and took a good month to build.

(Clifton Team #3 )







(Clifton Team #3)

Coffee Can Racer:

Teams had to modify a standard coffee can to be able to roll down an inclined plane as slow as possible. Many student put viscous liquids such as honey or soap, while others built motors inside their can in order to achieve this task. This was another item that needed to be built before the event started.

Collapsing Tower:

Teams had 100 Dominoes and needed to build a structure that when collapsed would cause a single domino to travel as far as possible from the initial built site.

(Clifton Team #1 reaching over 30 feet)










(Our whole group after we heard that Clifton got 1st place)







( The first place team, from left to right: Edward Lara, Eyad Ramadan, Jared Janowski, Carlos Mesa, and Bilal Adra)

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