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Build me a hovercraft today


Southern Cross University
17 June 2009

Here you go: take a small lift fan, two motorised propulsion units, a few bits of styrofoam, balsawood, rubber strip and tape. Now, go and construct a hovercraft.

That is just one of the mind-stretching tasks science students from the region will be facing in this Friday’s Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge, being held all day at the Lismore campus of Southern Cross University.

Another fun activity involves constructing a catapult to launch a tennis ball - with points awarded for distance travelled and the efficiency with which the energy is transferred to the projectile.

Reigning champions Lismore High School will be defending their crown against all comers and feel they are up to the challenge. They will compete against students from Alstonville High School, Emmanuel Anglican College, Ballina, Kadina High School, St Mary’s High School, Casino, Trinity Catholic College, Lismore, Woodenbong Central School and Tenterfield High School. Winners go through to the regional and possibly national finals.

Lismore High School science teacher Greg Zobel said while he hadn’t been ducking flying tennis balls in his classes lately, he had encouraged his students to start thinking about how they would solve some of the challenges they would face on Friday.

“The students attending have been given the choice of which of the eight tasks they want to team up for and at the end of the day it is the total score of all the teams that counts,” he said.

“The Science and Engineering Challenge presents a wonderful opportunity to get excited about science, and to use teamwork to solve problems using knowledge, initiative and cooperation.”

Another challenge is to build a state-of-the art ‘eco-habitech’ home that will stand up to the rigours of global warming, droughts, fierce storms, flooding, and temperature extremes. To do this, rigorous tests on scale models are expected - to assess the design’s characteristics.

Not only that, but the house must be as ecologically friendly as possible, with the value of materials and their ‘carbon cost’ also being taken into account.

Head of Southern Cross University’s School of Environmental Science and Management, Professor Jerry Vanclay, said the school students of today would eventually go on to make career choices that would affect the future supply of workers qualified in the field of science.

“Events like this that make science fun and exciting are critical for helping young people develop an interest in science, and have the potential to motivate them to take their studies further in the future. We look forward to seeing many of these students enrolled in courses at our University,” he said.

The special guest speaker at the Science and Engineering Challenge evening dinner on Thursday, June 18, will be environmental activist, water industry engineer, author and businessman, Steve Posselt.

Steve will share the story of his remarkable 122-day journey travelling from Brisbane to Adelaide along the Darling River, paddling 2170 kilometres and walking the other 1080 kilometres, hauling his kayak behind him. He will give a first-hand account of what is happening to this massive river system.

The Rotary Club of Alstonville has played a key role in organising both the dinner and the Science and Engineering Challenge, providing volunteers, coordinating sponsorship and providing BBQ meals for all attendees.

The Challenge, which is hosted by Southern Cross University’s School of Environmental Science and Management in conjunction with the Rotary Club of Alstonville and the University of Newcastle, with support from a range of business sponsors, aims to increase students’ interest in science, technology and engineering through a series of fun activities.

This year’s sponsors are: Rotary Club of Alstonville, Northern Rivers Echo, Engineers Australia, Ardill Payne & Partners, Richmond Waste, Wollongbar TAFE, NSW Sugar Milling Cooperative, Environmental Analysis Laboratory SCU, Metgasco, Country Energy, and Lismore City Council.

Photo: Lismore High School Year 10 students who will be defending their school’s Challenge title. From left (front): Sarah Hort, Giselle Newton, Madeline Gray; back row: John Wilton, Kate Ellis, Zac Morris, Anna Chamberlain, and teacher Greg Zobel.

Photo opportunity: media are invited to attend as teams of students compete in the Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge by testing hovercraft, catapults and bridges made from given materials. Please register at the events coordination desk located outside the P-block gymnasium (near the car park) at Southern Cross University, on Friday, June 19.