The science of discovery

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RMAE students compete at Innovation Day

By Deb Hurley Brobst

What’s the best way to get a car powered with Coke and Mentos candies to go a long distance?

“Ingenuity,” according to Harrison Olivieri, a seventh-grader at Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen.


“And a lot of trial and error,” he added.

Harrison and teammates Ryan Wilson and Quintin Kurtz had the car that went the farthest in one of the competitions during the school’s second Science Innovation Day on Friday. Their car went so fast and so far that it ran into a group of students at the end of the test strip in the school parking lot — so the total length of its run could not be measured.

The boys explained that they used furniture wheels for the car, which was akin to a pinebox derby car. Attached to the wheels was a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, which the boys say makes the car run better than regular Coke.

They placed a piece of masking tape over the opening of the bottle, then poked a hole through the tape to drop the Mentos candy into the Diet Coke, and off the car went.

Filled with commotion

The Science Innovation Day is the work of RMAE’s two middle-school science teachers, Paul Bryant and Jonelle Castleberry. Students in the three grades are given a list of challenges to choose from.

“We don’t set too many boundaries,” Castleberry said. “We let them figure out how to accomplish the task. It’s an inquiry-based method of learning. Everything they do is created at school, so it’s the kids’ project, not an adult project.”

There are no prizes for the winners, just the satisfaction that they completed the task. For the kids, she said, it’s more about the journey.

“It’s more for the fun,” Castleberry said, “and then they need to present their journey to classmates.”

The students, who work alone or in teams, keep journals to chronicle their trial and error in solving their challenge. They are required to do a PowerPoint presentation or a poster to explain their work.

Science Innovation Day takes the place of the science fair that most other Evergreen schools participate in. It’s not simply students explaining their work on posters. The school’s parking lot and cafeteria both were a hubbub of activity as students moved from challenge to challenge — some watching while others waited anxiously to see how their project would do in the trials.

Perpetual marble roller coasters

Sixth-graders took on the challenge of creating a roller coaster course for a marble that would roll continuously for 15 seconds. Then there must be some way for the marble to return to the beginning of the course.

The dozen marble-challenge contraptions were painted in bright colors. One of the more innovative tracks used Banana and Monkey, two pet mice, to run on a wheel to help bring the marble back to the top.

Hope Tomasi, Damara Mathis and Mia Prahlad had the idea of using the mice, and they said it wasn’t difficult to get the mice to run around the wheel without much prodding.

Solar cookers

Another group took on the challenge of creating solar cookers. The cookers had to actually cook some food, so an area of the parking lot was roped off, and the aroma of bacon, hot dogs and biscuits wafted through the air. The solar cookers’ temperatures ranged from 170 degrees to 300 degrees.

Some were made with aluminum foil, others with metal sheeting.

The solar cooker made by Max Goldenberg, Carter Morrill and Alec Surufka used a Fresnel lens, because after doing research, they learned that the lens was like a large magnifying glass that could amplify the sun’s intensity. They wanted to concentrate the sun’s rays so their cooker would get hotter.

Max’s dad had the job of going to a landfill with the boys to look for a Fresnel lens and found one on an old television.

On Friday, their solar cooker reached 300 degrees and cooked biscuits. One biscuit even looked like it was starting to burn a bit.

Eighth-grade egg drop

Eighth-graders were given the challenge to create a vehicle that would keep an egg intact while it was dropped 30 feet. Added to that, the vehicle had to roll. The contraption with the egg intact that rolled the farthest won the challenge.

While Castleberry was walking through the groups of students, making sure that records were being kept of the test results, Bryant was atop a cherry-picker, dropping the eggs the required 30 feet.

He had spectators count down “3, 2, 1,” and he dropped the egg vehicles one by one. Several rolled a short distance. Most of the eggs were scrambled after the fall.

Some students encased their eggs in peanut butter, cotton or duct tape, then put them inside basketballs and soccer balls to help with the rolling portion of the challenge. One team tried a parachute to help ease the landing.

Eighth-graders Stevie Spinelli, Alivia Allen and Riley Morgan waited anxiously as their egg, encased in six grocery bags and yarn stuffed inside a basketball, was dropped by Bryant. It then rolled 9 meters, 20 centimeters, the farthest of all the entries. If the egg survived, the girls would win the challenge.

They slowly unwrapped their egg with the suspense building. Would their egg survive?

Yes, it did. They jumped up and down as their fellow students cheered.

The girls said they smashed 10 eggs in their attempt to create the perfect egg vehicle.

“Everything we tried, the egg would break,” said Alivia.

One of the girls said she was so happy that she was going to call her mom with the good news.

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.