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Sports, arts and activities

Creativity, maths and physics at work in Engineering Science competition

Forty students from ACG Parnell College gave up their Saturday to take part in The University of Auckland’s New Zealand Engineering Science Competition, an annual problem-solving competition for teams of secondary students.

This year’s knotty question was “How many rocket launches from Mahia Peninsula would it take to establish a lunar colony?”

Students had nine hours to nut out a ten-page response, putting their mathematics, computer programming, creativity, research, team work and logical thinking to the test.

“It’s about trying to solve real-world problems without having all the data in front of you,” explained Physics teacher and Curriculum Coordinator for Senior Science, Tristan O’Hanlon. “The best students are those that, starting from basic assumptions, can build up a mathematical model, looking at all the possibilities.”

Chemistry and Biology students had an advantage this year as they considered what humans would need to take to establish a successful lunar colony – from fuel to food to the number of people needed to ensure genetic diversity.

One team, consisting of Mark Hutchinson, Ana Bogosanovic, Taylor Thorp and Lachlan Broadhurst, imagined a colony consisting of a series of domes for people, medicine, hygiene, food and other necessities. Hydroponically grown potatoes would be the primary food source to supply each person with 2,500 calories per day. Lunar ice would be extracted to provide water and solar power would be generated from the solar irradiance on the moon.

Detailed mathematics and physics calculations supported each proposition and by the end of the day the team surmised that 100 people could establish a colony on the moon with 44 rockets.

“It was so impressive to see how hard they worked,” Mr O’Hanlon said. “The students all chose their own teams and it was very interesting to observe the dynamics in terms of leadership and delegation.”

More than 180 teams from schools around the country entered the competition. Staff at the University of Auckland’s Engineering department will now pick a winner.  The top prize is $6,000 and runner up prize $2,000.

With 11 teams, ACG Parnell College had the most students taking part of any school in the country.

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