Thursday, July 24, 2014

From popsicle sticks to scholarships

Students’ engineering skills put to the test at Wilkes University event.

April 06. 2013 12:04AM

By - - (570) 991-6112

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WILKES-BARRE — The tower proved as rickety as it looked, tipping over almost as soon as the fan was turned on.

“We had the right idea, but used the wrong technique,” Pittston Area High School junior Michael Schwab said with a smile after the 10-inch structure of rolled-up newspaper tipped. Fortunately, he and teammate Troy Platukus had another chance to redesign with paper more tightly rolled — and to try to nab a scholarship at the Wilkes University Engineering Olympics.

Nine regional high schools sent up to 10 students each to compete in any of five challenges, said Lucas Domulevicz, a Nanticoke native who ran Friday’s Olympics and was on the winning team three years ago during the inaugural event.

Students had to build items — towers, gravity-powered cars, water wheels — or solve challenges in environmental and electrical engineering, usually with scant resources. In the case of the 10-inch towers, they had two sheets of newspaper, a foot of string and about 2 feet of masking tape.

“It’s like gold,” said Greater Nanticoke Area junior Wyatt Bobis, gingerly tearing off about half an inch of the tape.

The towers had to withstand the breeze of a large fan, initially placed about 3 feet away and gradually moved closer. Thumb tacks could be placed on the lee side of the tower to prevent it from sliding back, but poking them through the paper as an anchor to the table was a strict no-no.

Supplies for the gravity cars were almost as sparse: Straws, popsicle sticks, index cards, toothpicks, wooden skewers, rubber bands and paper clips, held together courtesy of a hot-glue gun. Oh, and bottle caps, for the wheels.

Making a car that rolls down the ramp is relatively simple. The rules require a good bit more: Teams had to accurately predict the car’s speed at the bottom of the ramp, and how far it would roll after hitting the floor.

Little things matter, Greater Nanticoke Area junior James O’Hara said after testing the vehicle he and Steven Duda were building. Because the amount of glue used is hard to control, for example, cars will often behave differently when opposite sides are used as the front.

Alas, the winning team — each student was eligible for $1,000 annual scholarships for four years if they opt to attend Wilkes — went to the team from Dunmore.

Most students interviewed said they expect to go into engineering or some other science-related field, though Duda was an exception. He is planning to enlist in the military for a full 20 years, retire young and “go into politics, probably locally,” working his way up “to U.S. senator or representative, if I can.”

What about president?

“I’d run if I could,” he smiled.

And he’ll be able to build his own car … though with popsicle sticks and index cards, it won’t be bullet-proof.

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