Region’s most promising physicists head to UCLan for power engine challenge
University hosts annual competition
Some of the North West’s top budding physicists were put to the test in a regional competition hosted by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and sponsored by the Institute of Physics (IOP).
The final of the 2016 IOP North West Undergraduate Physics Challenge saw three teams from UCLan compete against three teams from the University of Salford to see who could build the most powerful ‘engine’ able to lift the largest mass the furthest distance, powered by only one litre of boiling water and with a maximum budget of £30.
The students used innovative ways to demonstrate the basics of thermodynamics, the branch of physics that deals with the relationships between heat and other forms of energy, including a climbing robot, inflatable balloons and a machine that fired pennies.
A team from the University of Salford won with their Magical Climbing Robot creation which saw a robot climb 30cm from the energy generated by the boiling water. UCLan’s Team Steam came second.
"It’s been a great competition with a new style of learning. We’ve been able to get hands-on with physics and work in teams to create something that’s been enjoyable but really beneficial at the same time."
Masie Welsh from the University of Salford winning team commented: “We all feel great, especially as we had a few teething problems with the machine so it’s fantastic that it all came together on the day.”
It is the second year of the competition that was established last year at the request of the universities specifically for first year undergraduate students. Teams competed internally to secure a place in the final with the eventual winners receiving a top prize of £250 and the runners-up £100.
UCLan’s Team Steam captain Phillip Price said: “The challenge has been an engaging experience and coming second in the competition makes our hard work feel all the more rewarding. The practical element gave us a much greater understanding of what it takes to implement the ideas and concepts we've spent so long learning about.
“Working together with a group of like-minded individuals has been so worthwhile. Seeing such a vast range of ways in which different people solve the same problem will stick with me for a long time. It really shows the variety and choice available in the scientific field. A failed idea isn't the end of the world. Solving a problem is a process and every bump along the way contributes to the end product.”
Professor Derek Ward-Thompson, Director of the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute of Maths, Physics and Astronomy at UCLan, commented: “We’re really excited to host this very worthy competition which gives students at the very start of their academic journey something to really get their teeth into and challenge themselves.
“Thermodynamics has all sorts of applications, such as renewable energy, so through this competition the students are already learning about energy efficiency.”
"All the judges and myself were very impressed by the extraordinary range of solutions the students devised, and the creativity they have shown in solving this very tricky task."
Louise Butcher, North West Regional Officer for the Institute of Physics, said: “The Institute of Physics Undergraduate Challenge takes physics students from out of the lab and the lecture theatre and allows them to explore the challenges of using innovative design to solve real world problems using the physics they are currently studying. All the judges and myself were very impressed by the extraordinary range of solutions the students devised, and the creativity they have shown in solving this very tricky task.”
The second IOP North West Undergraduate Physics Challenge was hosted by the UCLan and Royal Institute (RI) Young Scientists Centre.
View images from the event on the UCLan Flickr gallery.