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  • Hector Amezcua /

    Rick Kraemer of Intel, left, examines a marble sorter designed by students Matthew Hopper, right, and Danny Yang.

  • Hector Amezcua /

    Folsom High student Angela Saxon, 15, on Friday takes a ride on the hovercraft built by students for the Physics and Engineering Challenge.

  • Hector Amezcua /

    Joe Dowling, a Folsom High student, on Friday drives a cart that he and his team built for the physics and engineering competition. The cart has an engine that burns alcohol and gas fuel.

Folsom, Cordova High students vie in science competition

Published: Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

A 10-student team showed off a solar-powered Styrofoam boat decked in tiger stripes, while Mary Ann Mort and Heidi Hernandez displayed a pair of rockets they had tested on the school track.

And one of the most popular novelties was a hovercraft that sat 11 centimeters above the ground on a cushion of air.

Hundreds of high school students eagerly checked out wind turbines, catapults and other experimental projects Friday at the Folsom High School Physics and Engineering Challenge.

The sixth annual event featured physics and engineering students from Folsom and Cordova high schools, who made up 64 teams vying for top honors in the challenge.

Mingling among them were 52 judges from Intel, SMUD, Aerojet, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, among other organizations. Their mission: Quiz the students about their projects and score them on craftsmanship, presentation and the results of their experiments.

"We (the U.S.) produce less than half the engineers and people with technical degrees than we really need," said William Leady, district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District. "We have vacancies we can't fill."

"Where we can, we influence students to study STEM," he said, using the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Folsom High School, directly across the street from Intel, apparently seems to be putting a dent in those numbers. Seventy students – about 20 percent – in each graduating class start college as engineering majors, said teacher Eric Wright, who organizes the annual event. "Way above the national norm."

The event seemed popular with other students on campus, who filled the theater lobby asking questions of exhibitors. One wore a T-shirt with the phrase "Come to the dorkside. We have (pi)."

Mort and Hernandez, both Folsom High students, stood beside a piece of cardboard that explained their rocket project. Details of how they tested two motors to find which had the greatest thrust were neatly typed on cards attached to a paper background decorated with pink cupcakes.

The girls said they were going to build the motors themselves, but opted to buy the gunpowder-fueled engines to avoid "getting on a bomb list." They tested the motors in a "fume hut" to avoid setting off the fire alarms at school and launched them on the school track.

Rocket launches and other such experiments are common on the Folsom High campus, Mort said. "It's really hands-on here," she said. "It's made me interested, so I'm going into physics."

Outside the hall larger projects were on display. Among them was the tiger-striped boat of molded Styrofoam. A team of five seniors and five sophomores built the solar-powered launch named Tigre del Mar, or Tiger of the Sea.

It's seaworthy, they said. Eight people were afloat on it before it started taking on water, said Taylor Adams, a senior on the team.

They haven't tested it in water since they attached the motor, but they are certain it will make a splash next month when they enter it in the Northern California Solar Regatta on May 17. They hope to add a solar recharger before then.

Students participating in the engineering challenge picked scientific concepts out of a hat, then researched, designed and tested them. They collected data and then presented to the judges Friday. The winners will be announced Monday. Call The Bee's Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Read her Report Card blog at report-card.

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