Shrewsbury School

Field Day Freefalling Frenzy

Friday 27 November 2020

This year’s Field Day saw students in Fifth Form and Lower Sixth embark on a half-day investigation into free-fall. A challenging project which all the students said they would do in real life!

The project was based around the amazing feats of Felix Baumgartner and Alan Eustace who both broke the sound barrier with their skydives, a great accomplishment not just for them individually but for their whole STEM team.

We firstly experienced as best we could what it would be like to skydive using virtual reality goggles. After the students made it through that stage, they investigated various factors that are important when trying to beat a world record for skydiving.

Students made use of light gates and a model of their skydiver to decide whether angle of fall mattered and to determine whether their skydiver would reach terminal velocity. One of the Fifth Form teams discussed that they would model this mathematically, considering the limitations of physical modelling.

The groups had to figure out how they would get their skydiver to decelerate enough for a safe landing and spent time preparing a parachute for their model skydiver, an egg. Once faces were drawn on the eggs and names given to them, each group felt a deep connection to their egg and felt duty-bound to protect them. The parachutes took on a range of designs using various materials, one impressive design used only paper and tape, successfully protecting the egg during landing!

Students then investigated the most effective way to insulate their skydiving egg from extremes in temperature. To do this, they aimed for their egg to not cook in a hot water bath. During a skydive from heights such as Eustace and Baumgartner reached, the skydiver would experience freezing temperatures. Rather than try to not freeze their egg, a more exciting method is to use the theory that insulation works both ways.

Insulation and eggs at the ready, students submerged their eggs in the water bath hoping they would remain uncooked on exit. When it came time to crack the eggs, all eggs remained raw with just a couple of yolks seeming more firm than others (although the students would not agree with this!).

Finally, we discussed the role of the whole STEM team on a project such as this. Ranging from coders, engineers, marketing (in the case of Red Bull and Baumgartner), mathematics, technology and of course scientists.

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