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Students Explore Science Concepts at UW Energy Summer Institute

June 21, 2013
Two students with launcher
Chelsie Humpherys of Star Valley, left, and Nina Ford of Saratoga examine the potato launcher they built during the Energy Summer Institute at the University of Wyoming. They launched potatoes in a propulsion experiment in which they used computer software to model the launcher’s behavior. (UW Photo).

How much weight can a cockroach pull, and how much strength does it take to pull a marshmallow apart?

Those were among the questions explored by students attending the annual Energy Summer Institute, sponsored by the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources and taught by fellows in UW’s Science Posse program. The weeklong science camp is designed to ignite students' imagination related to challenging energy problems facing the world. Participating students are incoming sophomores and juniors in high school.

"The Energy Summer Institute gives students an opportunity to learn about higher education and what UW offers, and they have fun doing it," says Don Roth, SER deputy director for academics and Science Posse director. “It connects what they learn in the classroom with relevant applications, and this inspires them to further learning. The program also provides Science Posse fellows the opportunity to share their passion for science and education."

The students learned about potential and kinetic energy and thermo energy, and they used computer labs for projectile motion analysis and to perform efficiency calculations and predictions. They also took part in projects involving tensile strength testing, soil sampling, boosting energy with light and circuit boards, and other projects.

Megan Candelaria, a graduate coordinator with the Science Posse, says the roach tractor pull required students to examine how much weight a cockroach can pull and explain what that means in terms of energy and energy consumption.

In the marshmallow project, students tested the tensile strength of marshmallows by systematically pulling them apart until they broke. 

“They learned that the tensile strength of a material is the maximum amount of tensile stress (force) that it can be subjected to before failure -- in our case, pulling apart,” Candelaria says.

Another popular project required students to construct potato launchers and to use computer software to model the launchers’ behavior. They got to test their work by launching potatoes on a vacant field, often achieving distances approaching 300 feet. The students compared the results of the actual propulsion experiment with their computer models.

Students participating in the UW Energy Summer Institute, listed by hometown, are:

Afton -- Chelsey Humpherys.

Arvada, Colo. -- Kori Straub.

Belvidere, Ill. -- Jonah Cummings.

Broomfield, Colo. -- Richard Li.

Denver, Colo. -- Jemima Ajibade.

Erie, Colo. -- Isaiah Moreno.

Fort Worth, Texas -- Sagi Rahul.

Gillette -- Brandon Myers.

Greeley, Colo. -- Erick Miller.

Guernsey -- Forest Foos.

Hartville -- Natalie Blaise.

Lakewood, Colo. -- Kathryn Cox.

Lander -- Nathan Womack.

Laramie -- Rachel Huang and Josef Nelson.

Loveland, Colo. -- Paul Zaczek.

Rockford, Ill. -- Noah Saunders.

Saratoga -- Nina Ford.

Worland -- Brittany Morton.

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