Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer
Macon Middle School (MMS) will be taking part in the Gravity Games for the first time on April 29, in Lenoir.
The NC Gravity Games competition is supported by Google, Appalachian State University, the University of North Carolina and the City of Lenoir. These games are designed to be an educational, hands-on activity designed to get young people excited about science. The Gravity Games are a signature event of the North Carolina Science Festival, a multi-day celebration highlighting the educational, cultural and financial impact of science in the state. The first games were held in 2011 and went through 2019. COVID halted the games for three years, and now they are back.
Brian Wilkinson is a STEM teacher at MMS. His class will be participating in this event and his students have been working diligently all year, building “Soap Derby Cars.” Wilkinson was awarded a grant of $4,000 through the NC Science Festival to cover the cost of the materials and travel to the competition.
Seventh grader Justin Gonzales, who will be participating in the event acknowledges that “A great deal of science is behind the building of these Soap Derby Cars.”
The school purchased several kits, which students had to assemble. The kits came with a wood base and shell and many other parts, which had to be put together by the students. A lot of engineering design and physics went into the building of these cars. Carpentry and construction in Mr. Greenwood’s CTE classes were also a crucial part of the building.
Maceon Jowers is also a 7th grade student who will be participating in the games. He says, “participation depends on good behavior.” He also noted that an engineer will be coming to visit their class to show them how to reduce weight and friction so the cars can run faster. He has already contoured his car several times.
Christopher Jones is an 8th grade student who will also be entering his car in the derby. He explained, “the weight limit for each car is 200 lbs. The car itself weighs 50 lbs., so when a person sits in the car they have to be less than 150 lbs. Some of the cars had to be shaved a bit to reduce the weight.” Since the car has no motor and is propelled by gravity, the weight is crucial for speed.
Justin also spoke about the art work on the cars. He explained, “the art class painted the body of the cars. I am in art class so I got to paint my own car.”
When the cars were completely assembled they went out onto the field to test them. Maceon downloaded an app that measures speed. He clocked Christopher’s car at 30 mph. He said “that’s a good speed!”
Last month the class took a trip across the street to Mountain View Intermediate and demonstrated their derby cars to the 6th graders, with the hope that they will consider participating in the derby next year.
Once at the event the team from Appalachian State University (ASU) will conduct the safety inspection. The inspection is comprised of a visual and physical inspection of the car. For the physical inspection of the car, the driver must get in the car and travel along a short-course. ASU is making sure that the car is both within the proper weight guidelines (both with and without the driver) and that the car can stop when pressure is applied to the brakes. The car must stop before hitting the hay bale that is located on the short course. Adjustments can be made before the event begins but time will be limited.
Prizes will be awarded but that’s a surprise. Bragging rights, awards and medals will be distributed along with some cool stuff from ASU and Google.