Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Air + H2O + 2-liter bottle = rocket; high schoolers at UAB learn from missiles

They will tell you not to try this at home, but you easily could. You probably have everything in your garage – water, check; tire pump, check; two 2-liter bottles, check; duct tape, check; all you need now to launch your rocket is an excuse, like the 4th of July. Or how about a better excuse, one that your parents would buy, like learning!

“What we are actually studying are the classes of statics, dynamics, and hydraulics and the relationships between force, mass, acceleration, pressure, height, launch angles and ballistic testing so there is a lot of science behind the rocket launch,” says  Jason Kirby, Ph.D., associate professor UAB School of Engineering.

A dozen students from the Alabama Governor’s School are attending a two-week summer camp at UAB. This week they have been in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering. They are building water fueled rockets that travel 150+ feet in the air and 250+ feet in length.

The recipe is fairly simple:
•    Cut the bottom off of two 2-liter bottles and duct tape the open bottoms together.
•    Build and add fins to the side of your rocket.
•    Build and add a nose cone to the top.
•    Add 900 milliliters of water to the bottom.
•    Use a bike tire pump to compress 60 psi of air into bottle
•    LIFTOFF!

True, the recipe is simple but the process and design for future professionals is complex and most importantly, educational.

“Ultimately this is an engineering class so you learn that not every theoretical idea that works in the lab happens in the field,” says Katie McCutcheon, a rising senior at Jacksonville High School whose team had the best launch of the day at 278 feet. “One of the teams had their wings further up on the rocket in the first launch and it went maybe 40 feet but on the second attempt they moved the wings back further and the rocket went well over 200 feet.”

“We teach about innovations, design and variables so we will actually take all this data back into the classroom to analyze for trends and ask the students to assess what improvements they would make for future competitions,” added Kirby.

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