Sawyer Rensel released his rubber band launcher and his elastic glider proceeded to zing through the gymnasium. It twisted and turned in multiple directions before falling to the ground after about seven seconds.
The performance might not have been on par with Rensel’s first-place finish in the competition at the 2013 regional Science Olympiad, but that didn’t matter.
“I’m not here to get first place. I’m just here to learn and have fun,” Rensel said.
The junior from DuBois Area High School was one of more than 400 students from thirty-three area school districts who attended the 2014 regional Science Olympiad at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, Tuesday, March 11. The glider competition was just one of forty-six science-related events students participated in throughout the day.
From the early morning until the middle of the afternoon, students launched helicopters, dropped eggs with a bungee, and made music with a PVC pipe.
For Rensel, the most anticipated event was the elastic launch glider competition. Students came to the event with one or two gliders built from wood, foam, paper, plastic film, carbon fiber, tape, and glue. They launched them in the Erie Hall gymnasium with the goal of having the glider stay in the air for the longest amount of time possible.
“It’s a refinement of design. It’s all about coming up with a design and then refining it,” said Richard Skellen, a visual design teacher at Ridgeway Area High School who supervised the event. “You have to find that sweet spot of wherever you are because each gym is different.”
Refinement was the name of the game for Rensel. He estimated that he spent about ten hours preparing his gliders for the competition. Along the way, he made numerous tweaks in an effort to get the best possible outcome. At times, he added paper to increase the weight. Other times, he took it away.
He even tested a hypothesis by applying a curvature to the wings of one of his gliders. It might seem like a lot of work, but for Rensel, it was a labor of love.
“I wanted to see if this curvature would work on the wings. Real airplanes do have this curve,” Rensel said. “I’ve always had a great interest in aviation. Some kids had a box of toy cars. I had a box of toy planes.”
Rensel’s goal for the day was to get more than nine seconds on one individual flight. Unfortunately, he did not reach that as his best flight lasted 7.4 seconds.
Overall, he placed third in the competition, but he remained optimistic. After all, he is just a junior, so there’s always next year.
“It’s a learning experience for me,” Rensel said. “I’m learning that this is not working.”