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News

May 31, 2011

Extreme Boating = Physics

Using only cardboard and duct tape to build boats that can be paddled 50 meters across a pool, Houston-area teens put their physics skills to the test at the Extreme Boating Regatta at the University of Houston (UH).

The winners, Team Maytenus Matudai from Kempner High School, completed the race with a time of 1 minute, 4 seconds. Second and third place, respectively, went to The Wave Runners of Porter High School and Team Nimitz of Nimitz High School.

Teams representing five Houston-area school districts spent several weeks applying lessons learned in physics class to build handmade vessels that were buoyant, stable and “seaworthy” enough to row across the university’s swimming pool – without sinking. One hundred students from 10 schools participated in the 2011 event.

“Students make connections between concepts in physics and what actually happens with their boat, whether it sails or capsizes,” said Robert Dubois, a visiting assistant professor of physics at UH, who directs the department’s outreach efforts. “In preparation for the event, I visited participating schools and gave a 90-minute crash course in physics classes on buoyancy concepts.”

The second-annual event, part of the Grand Challenge series, is sponsored by UH’s Houston-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (H-LSAMP), a BP Foundation grant, and the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM). The regatta is intended to encourage students at predominately minority and underprivileged high schools to study physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and engineering and is part of H-LSAMP’s recruiting efforts for NSM.

H-LSAMP is a well-established, federally funded program that connects UH and local secondary schools. Efforts are focused on recruiting and funding minority students who choose to major in one of the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Since H-LSAMP began more than a decade ago, the number of minority undergraduates receiving science or engineering degrees from UH has risen 50 percent.