Local High Schoolers Test Their Skills in 38th Physics Olympics

By Jordan Unger

Students from local high schools gathered for the 38th annual Physics Olympics at Youngstown State University at Stambaugh Stadium on Saturday.

PhysicsOlympics by JordanUnger
High school students prepare paper parachutes for the Egg Drop at the Physics Olympics.

Eleven regional schools attended the event to apply concepts of physics in hands-on competitions.

Activities at the event varied from building bridges to sustain weight, flying machines to travel 25 feet and designing paper parachutes to safely drop an egg three stories.

YSU physics professor Snjezana Balaz worked a station where students created makeshift musical instruments out of everyday objects and performed “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. Balaz said the event helps YSU professors promote science to juniors and seniors.

“We like to involve community, so all these regional high schools come to campus, and we get to know them and they get to know us,” Balaz said.

Trophies were awarded to the top teams who cumulated the most points from all 12 activities. First place was awarded to Hickory High School , followed by Lisbon David Anderson Jr/Sr High School in second.

Mary Janek, coordinator of the event, said awards were given out to winners of individual competitions as well.

“They all get medals, ribbons and certificates of merit,” Janek said. “We really go all out so they can build their portfolio and show that…they’ve been here and put the time in.”

Balaz said the event helps YSU promote physics, but it also benefits the participating students.

“They learn a lot of team building and physics concepts…so it’s wonderful for them,” she said.

Bill Stevenson, physics teacher from Conneaut Area Senior High School, said it started an applied physics course this year, leading them to attend the event for the first time.

“It was an opportunity to get a hands-on look at some physics concepts, so for a while now we’ve been preparing for this,” Stevenson said. “They’ve already talked about saving some of these things, [taking] good notes and talking to the next group of kids to kind of keep the program up and running.”

This was Janek’s first year coordinating the event, which she said came together well.

“I’m amazed at [the high school students’] dedication,” Janek said. “To come here, spend their day after spending weeks and months studying the concepts of physics and then preparing an application of it.”

New to the Physics Olympics this year was Faraday Pick-up, a competition where students had to make an object into an electromagnet using a six-volt source and determine how many paperclips it can pick up.

Stephen Mohr, physics teacher from Jackson-Milton High School, said his students attend the event every year.

“It gives kids, instead of just sitting in a physics class, an outlet to actually see there’s applications for it,” Mohr said. “They can challenge themselves, and they get to compete against other schools. It’s kind of like an athletic competition, but it’s a brain competition.”

Student volunteers from YSU worked with registration and assisted professors at event stations throughout the day. Martin Strong, president of the Society of Physics Students, said the group tries to recruit volunteers for the Physics Olympics every year.

“It provides a good experience to work alongside professors and try to get some high schoolers involved in physics as well,” Strong said.

The Society of Physics Students plans to send members to local high schools in the near future to encourage students interested in physics to consider the program at YSU.