Rising to the challenge

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 Sequim Gazette staff

Their hopes hanging on every splash of water and drop of a golf ball, many of the young engineers held their breath as miniature barges traversed the specially constructed canals.


However, the learning, their mentors said, came well before the final test.


More than half of the 97 students who registered for the Sequim Education Foundation’s fifth Engineering Challenge at the Sequim Boys & Girls Club on Feb. 23 competed, with 19 competitors completing the course.


Sequim High School junior Angela Bentley took top honors in Division I while Greywolf Elementary fifth-grader Connor Forderer topped the field in Division II. Vita Olson, a fifth-grade student at Helen Haller Elementary, took home the first Violet O’Dell award for her positive spirit during the challenge. (O’Dell was a past engineering challenge winner who died in 2012 of brain cancer at age 11.)


This year’s event challenged youths to send a self-propelled barge along a canal with as many golf balls as possible; the barge was to weigh as little as possible. Walter Johnson, a foundation director and chairman of the Engineering Challenge, explained that there were a variety of propulsions and designs. The rules dictated that the barges had to be powered by “deformed elastics” or stretched rubber such as balloons or rubber bands. Some barges had overhead mounted propellers, while others used water wheel rudders and even deflating balloons to provide forward thrust. “There was a great variety in the nature of the ways to drive the craft,” he said.


Johnson also said that the competition gets young children working with their parents to construct barges, while older students get to experiment more with the engineering, physics and mathematics of the contest.


District science specialists even go out of their way to organize clubs where youths can come to test designs before the competition.


Johnson said the foundation is considering next year’s event, which could be a controlled egg drop. “The event just got over, so we’ve got a year to figure it out,” he said.


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