Notre Dame’s REU program hosts intercollegiate Physics Olympics

Author: Shelly Goethals


On July 9, the Department of Physics and Notre Dame’s Physics Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program hosted the annual Physics Olympics in the Jordan Hall of Science. REU students from Michigan State, Purdue and Notre Dame participated in the events.

This year’s Physics Olympics included three group events designed to draw upon the students’ knowledge of basic physics principles. Each event was timed and utilized everyday household items that needed to be used to complete a task.

During “Faraday Pickup,” event, groups were charged with constructing an electromagnet from copper wire, nails, AA batteries and electric tape. The goal was to attract as many paperclips as possible with the electromagnet and transfer the clips to a tray on another table. In order to succeed, the students needed to know how to create a circuit and how to make the electric current stronger with the supplied materials.

Another activity focused on understanding the principles of fluid dynamics. Using straws, rubber bands and a piece of aluminum foil, the students need to build a boat that could hold as much weight as possible, without sinking the boat in a tub of water. Recognizing the characteristics of the materials and how those traits could be used to the group’s advantage was the key in improving the buoyancy and strength of the boat.

The final event, “Bungee Jump,” simulated a bungee jumping scenario off the third floor balcony in the Galleria. Working with rubber bands, a meter stick and a bag of sand, the teams needed to determine how long their “bungee cord” needed to be in order for their “jumper” to make a successful jump to the ground floor, without landing on the ground or in the bucket of water waiting on the ground floor. Successful jumps accounted for the weight of the sand bag, the estimated distance to the ground floor, and the elasticity of the rubber bands.

The Physics REU Program provides opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct research with faculty and graduate students. Directed by Prof. Umesh Garg, the REU program is open to rising juniors or seniors and attracts students from universities around the country.