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Ravell Call, KSL

'Being a nerd is maybe not so bad' — 10K kids see physics in motion at Lagoon

By Ashley Imlay, KSL  |  Posted May 20th, 2018 @ 8:17am


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FARMINGTON — Eggs falling from the sky, fighting robots, myth-busting teens and thousands of kids riding roller coasters — sound like something straight out of a Pixar film?

That was the scene Friday during USU Physics Day at Lagoon, now in its 29th year.

“One of the best things, I think, for these kids is that they come down and see 10,000 other geeks, and they think, ‘Being a nerd is maybe not so bad,’” said J.R. Dennison, a professor in Utah State University's physics department and one of the event's coordinators.

For one day every year, middle and high school students from around Utah and neighboring states converge on the theme park to put skills they've learned in the classroom to the test and to see physics in motion during what may be the most fun day in science class.

Several activities took place Friday, including an egg drop contest, accelerometer contest, physics demonstration design contest, futuristic ride design contest, physics quiz bowl and robotics contests.

Among those, the robotic battles sparked a lot of electricity as fifth- and sixth-graders got to pit the machines they've been building for months against others for the first time.

The sixth-graders built sumo bots, small robots designed to wrestle each other, and the fifth-graders built maze runners, made to solve mazes.

“We just took first!” said sixth-grader Katelyn Ashment with a huge smile as she ran over to tell her classmates the good news.

She and her teammate, Paige Gardner, were one of the only “girl teams” competing in the sumo bot contest.

Their win was "awesome," Katelyn said, especially considering some of the challenges the girls met as they readied for the contest.

“So, first, we had to build the robot, and we had to come up with our own design. And we had a ramp, we had it all good. And then we worked on the program. The program was actually pretty simple, but we figured out the program, tweaked some stuff," Katelyn explained.

However, as the girls made sure they were ready last Friday, they ran into a bump in the road.

"The very last day to work on it, we had to redo our ramp 'cause it wasn’t working anymore. So we started the ramp over, and then we fixed it. And then the robot wasn’t working again, so we changed one tiny number that we had skipped over every time, and we got it good!" the sixth-grader at Bluff Ridge Elementary exclaimed.

"I’m really proud of it,” she said.

Ollie Eames, of Buffalo Point Elementary School, watches his robot perform during USU Physics Day at Lagoon in Farmington on Friday, May 18, 2018. (Photo: Ravell Call, KSL)

For Landon Lloyd, a sixth-grader at Adele C. Young Intermediate School, getting ready for the competition was "really fun."

“I’m excited to compete. At school we’ve tested it, but not against other schools,” he said.

The roller coaster design contest also gave the teens and preteens opportunities to practice working together.

Megan Petersen participated in the contest with two of her classmates. The eighth-graders at Centennial Junior High designed a water slide that, with its bends and curves, formed the name of the amusement park.

"We kinda just liked the idea of building a roller coaster that's based off Lagoon. How it spells out 'Lagoon' to represent, and bring more customers in and stuff. And you could put lights on it to make it like, 'Lagoon is right here, come over and stuff,'" Megan explained.

One of her teammates, Raquel Larsen, described how the girls worked well together and were able to finish the project.

"We all just had jobs that we had to do," she said.

For Dennison, the physics professor who helped organize the event almost 30 years ago, seeing so many kids have fun and learn physics at the same time is "a lot of fun."

"I come from a long line of teachers, my parents and my grandparents, and all of my kids except the black sheep in the family are teachers, right? So education’s what it’s all about," he said.

He said many teachers use the day at Lagoon as a reward to help motivate their students to sign up for physics classes and remain interested in the subject.

“To be honest, the best stuff that can happen is all the stuff the teachers do in their classrooms before and afterward. … They can come here and see it in action."

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