PITTSFIELD -- Local students had plenty of energy Thursday night -- kinetic energy, mostly. Some even had elastic energy.
Almost 60 high school students hailing from Pittsfield to New Lebanon, N.Y., participated in this year's General Dynamics High School Engineering Competition, an annual event that uses creative, team-based challenges to engage and introduce young people to the engineering field.
Each year's competition requires a new challenge for the team to complete. This year, 14 teams had to design and build a contraption that putted a golf ball autonomously, meaning it had to putt it on its own -- without a human touching the ball.
Apparently, the challenge was an ace in the hole for the young engineers and their designs, because the conditions of the competition were changed a few times since the teams' performances exceeded the volunteers expectations.
"They've been very impressive," said Liz Bocchino, a systems engineer at General Dynamics and member of the Engineering Leadership Program. "They've been at a much higher level than I ever got to in high school."
Most of the putting devices used a pendulum design. The teams would hold a pendulum up at varying degrees, holding it in place with something like a metal rod, then release the pendulum, turning that potential energy into kinetic energy, and sending the golf ball where the team wanted it to go.
"Different degrees allows for different powers," said Lenox High School senior
Conlon's three-person team, Team Golf, showed off their pendulum-style contraption called the Unilateral Phase Detractor. To better aim their golf balls, the team placed a laser pointer on the contraption. Several other teams used a laser-pointer precision system, too.
"We didn't put any regulations on what they could and couldn't use," Bocchino said. "We encouraged scavenging. Engineers need to learn to use what they
A team of seniors from New Lebanon High School didn't purchase anything for their project, team member Aaron Stall said. They implemented surgical bands to hold their pendulum back, giving the device elastic energy.
"We learned a lot of things we haven't covered in class yet, like inertia and rotational energy," said team member Tristan Southard. "It was a lesson in its own learning about engineering and energy."
The competition was split up into two preliminary rounds: Half of the teams would have tri-fold boards they made about the project judged by volunteers, while the other teams would putt golf balls down makeshift runways to gain points during three accuracy rounds. The more points earned, the more extra balls the team would earn during the final round.
Bocchino, who oversaw the event, had to up the ante because the teams scored so well.
In three final free-for-all rounds, the teams sat around a large bulls-eye to putt golf balls into the center to earn 100 points. Both teams from Lenox High School took first and second place. Students Sarah Warren, Noah Tebben and Nick Reynolds won first place with their spring-loaded putting contraption.
"This shows that science can be fun, and it's OK to pursue a career in that field," Bocchino said.