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New Zealand's Next Top Engineering Scientist 2012

November 13, 2012 at 12:08 PM

We congratulateJames Gardner, Samuel Gilmour, Joe Lu, John Theakston, a team of Year 13 Physics students who have won the prestigious University of Auckland Engineering Science Competition. Now in its fourth year, this annual competition is a problem solving event for teams of three to four secondary students, organised by the Department of Engineering Science. This year, 143 teams from 69 schools all over New Zealand took part. The competition required the teams of students to work from 9am to 6pm to solve a given problem. Coming up with a solution required some sound problem-solving skills typical of those needed and employed in the Department of Engineering Science.

This year's problem centred on Felix Baumgartner's planned record breaking high altitude skydive attempt, which he successfully completed earlier this year on October 14th. Felix jumped from a height of 39km, launching himself from a capsule suspended beneath a balloon, at the edge of space. After Felix landed, a remote triggering system released the capsule from the balloon.

The question asked on competition day was ‘In the event that electronic tracking is unavailable, what size search area is required in order to retrieve the capsule?’ The boys broke the problem up into five main sections.  They figured out how the speed of the skydiver would change as he fell through different layers in the atmosphere and combined this with average lateral wind speeds for each layer to figure out where he would land.  Then they figured out how long it would take the capsule to drop and the largest distance it could be blown sideways in any direction as it did so.  After modelling every stage using maths ranging from simple Year 11 Science equations right up to creating and solving their own differential equations, they concluded that a search radius of 40km around where Felix landed would need to be searched.  This may not sound that big, but it is equal to an area of 5,027 square kilometres (Pi times the radius squared, 3.14159 x 40 x 40) which is why finding boats lost at sea is so difficult.  The boys worked very well together and submitted an impressive 15 page report of their findings, including all of their assumptions, within the 9 hour competition deadline and were subsequently awarded first prize.

The boys won a $6000 prize with $500 allocated to the College and the rest for the boys to share. They are also guaranteed an internship for any team member that goes on to enrol in engineering science. 

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