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USU Physics Day at Lagoon Offers Thrilling Science Fun

Thursday, May. 24, 2018

Teens on rollercoaster

Teen participants in USU Physics Day at Lagoon race through a loop of the Colossus Fire Dragon rollercoaster as they measure G-forces with self-built wrist accelerometers. The annual event, held May 18 and in its 29th year, welcomed nearly 10,000 aspiring scientists.

Teens with amusement park ride model.

Farmington Junior High students, from left, Abigail Stringfellow, Delaney Dunleavy and Sara Greer explain their amusement park ride design, 'Mountain of Mist,' to judges at USU Physics Day at Lagoon 2018.

Watching rollercoasters loaded with screaming teens zoom through the loops at Utah’s Lagoon amusement park looks effortless, but designing the rides is “not as easy as it looks,” said Farmington Junior High student Delaney Dunleavy. Her teammates Sara Greer and Abigail Stringfellow nodded in agreement.

“I’ve had to think a lot about inertia,” Stringfellow said.

“You’ve got to get the energy just right or the rollercoaster won’t make it through the loops,” said Greer, who, with Dunleavy and Stringfellow competed with a ride model of their own design at 2018 USU Physics Day at Lagoon.

The trio’s persistence paid off. The young scientists received first place in the middle school category of the ride design competition.

The May 18 event, coordinated by Utah State University’s Department of Physics with partner Idaho National Laboratory and a host of sponsors, welcomed nearly 10,000 young scientists to Davis County’s über-playground for its 29th annual gathering of gut-churning science fun.

Participants in the day-long event included high school and middle school students, MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) program elementary students, along with their teachers, from throughout Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and Arizona.
Hundreds of the youths competed in the day’s popular Sky Drop contest, which involved dropping a raw egg in a protective container of the competitor’s own design from the park’s Sky Ride onto an Aggie bull’s eye. (Dozens of eggs plunged to their splattered doom; only about 25 percent survived.)

Students also vied in a robotics grudge match, used their smartphones to tackle physics brain-teasers and sported wrist accelerometers they’d made themselves to measure G-forces as they braved the thrills and chills of the park’s rollercoasters.

Along with the day’s amusements, nearly 100 aspiring Aggies in three-person teams engaged in the annual Physics Bowl competition for scholarship awards. 

“It’s very rewarding to see so many teens getting excited about science,” said USU Physics alum Amberly Evans Jensen ’12, MS’15, who assisted Physics Day founder and director J.R. Dennison, USU physics professor, in coordinating this year’s event. “It takes nearly a year to prepare for the event, but it’s worth it.”

In addition to the USU Department of Physics, INL and Lagoon, the annual event is supported by the USU College of Science, USU’s Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, USU Admissions, the USU Research Foundation, Space Dynamics Laboratory, Hill Air Force Base STEM Outreach, the U.S. Navy, the Utah NASA Space Grant Consortium and multiple corporate sponsors.

Related Links
“Utah High School Students Test Roller Coaster G-Forces with Tech They Designed,” Fox 13 News 
“Utah State Hosts Physics Day at Lagoon,” Good 4Utah 
“’Being a Nerd is Maybe Not So Bad’ – 10,000 Kids See Physics in Motion at Lagoon,” Deseret News 
USU Physics Day at Lagoon 
USU Department of Physics 
USU College of Science 

Contact: J.R. Dennison, 435-797-2936,
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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