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The University of Alabama

UA Engineering Students Host 2016 Rocket Contest at Nearby School

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Student volunteers from the University of Alabama College of Engineering will host the Tuscaloosa Rocketry Challenge from noon to 2 p.m.  Friday, April 8, at Hillcrest High School’s football field.

The challenge is part of an outreach program by the Alabama Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, or AL SEDS, the local affiliate of SEDS, a national nonprofit organization that aims to educate students in space exploration.

The rocketry challenge was co-founded last year by Cassidy McCool, a junior in mechanical engineering at UA who serves as vice president and executive outreach coordinator for Al SEDS.

To prepare for the contest, UA students assisted sixth-grade science teachers at Duncanville, Echols and Hillcrest middle schools in Tuscaloosa County by leading a three-day lecture series at each school.

The lectures explored such topics as space exploration, basic Newtonian physics and water-rocket building. On the final day, using such materials as two-liter bottles, duct tape and foam, students were shown how to construct the rockets. They then tested their work in a “Battle of the Classes,”  a rocketry challenge at each school where winning teams were chosen to compete in final challenge April 8.

During the competition, rockets take off from an air-pressurized launch pad aimed across the football field. The UA students will measure the distance each rocket traveled and help the middle school students identify the design factors that boosted efficiency or hindered performance.

“There’s a lot of math involved. There’s a lot of science happening, but it’s very simple and they can understand it,” McCool said. “They do everything. We just give them the concepts.”

About 100 students are expected to compete in the rocketry challenge, and the top three teams will receive a trophy to display at their schools. Additionally, members of these teams will participate in “Be an Engineer for a Day,” an event in which they will visit UA to work alongside engineering students on their space-related projects. The winning school will also be allowed to host next year’s rocketry challenge.

“The purpose of this program is to cultivate our students’ problem-solving abilities and to help our community realize that space exploration is relevant and impacts our lives daily,” said McCool, who graduated from Hillcrest High School. “My goal is to have this program at every middle school in Tuscaloosa County.”

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.