Students Tackle Questions from the World of Science

November 22, 2011

World_of_Science_1Two interesting events at University Campus recently challenged science students to think both creatively and rationally as they competed to solve the intricate questions involved in model bridge design, and as they explored pressing ecological problems and potential solutions.

The model bridge design event, the first of its kind at Saint Leo, was an adaptation of a lighthearted, but widely used assignment. Physics and engineering students break into teams to see which group can produce the best – meaning the most durable – model bridge made from 100 lightweight wooden sticks and white glue. All the bridges are meant to be destroyed. The structures eventually succumb to the weight of a bucket that is filled to varying levels with sand or pebbles while suspended from the middle of the bridge. The bridge that can hold the most weight––before it snaps, crackles and collapses in front of an audience––wins. Aesthetic appeal, as judged by the audience, counted for separate recognition.

The contest, explains Dr. Shawn Weatherford, assistant professor of physics, “brings physics out of the textbook and into the real world. Students learn that physics is more than a series of equations, that physics principles can be used to build cool bridges that are more than the sum of their parts. Applying physics to the real world makes physics fun and exciting.”

Students alternately watched in suspense, then gasped, and then cheered, as Dr. Weatherford and fellow faculty member Dr. Leo Ondrovic worked with student assistants to test the endurance of 14 fragile-looking creations, each measuring about 500 millimeters (20 inches) long. Some entries broke quickly, but others held up for surprisingly long intervals of continued stress before the inevitable snap. The winning assembly had been named “Modest Bridge” by its three inventors, Jill Browne, Lou Cafiero and Alex Stewart.

In a more serious vein, a number of biology students made presentations during the Focus the Nation academic event at Saint Leo. Focus the Nation began in 2008 at colleges across the country, and was designed to bring public awareness to environmental issues in community- or student-led forums. Saint Leo has since added other programming elements to incorporate social justice themes into its Focus the Nation observance, but ecological topics continue as a central theme through the mentorship of Dr. Chris Miller, who teaches environmental science. This year, students worked individually or in groups on presentations ranging from the effects of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill to the best ideas for alternative energy sources and ecologically sound boating practices. Their reports and research posters were presented to fellow students, faculty and staff.World_of_Science_2