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Pasta project at Penn-Trafford spans physics, fun

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 2:10 a.m.

Teams of Penn-Trafford 12th-graders will be using their noodles when they compete to build the best bridge next week.

For the past three weeks, five teams of Penn-Trafford students have been working on bridges made of pasta and hot glue. On Monday, they'll transport their bridges to Carbone's Restaurant in Crabtree for the competition. There, weights will be hung from the bridges to determine which can sustain the most weight.

This is the fourth year for the competition and the first time Penn-Trafford students are competing.

Since the beginning of the new year, students have been working on their bridges three times a week. They estimate each bridge will take 25 hours to build.

"It's very time consuming because we're building little bundles made out of seven pieces of spaghetti into a hexagon," student Jon Miller said. "We'll have, like, 100 of those, so it takes a while."

This is the first time Penn-Trafford physics teacher Ryan Tucek has monitored a project like this.

"I'm as new to this as they are," he said. "I'm letting them learn on trial and error on their own. As the years go on, I'm sure I'll know more ways to help them."

Students have been applying theories learned in physics class -- such as torque and center of mass -- to their bridge structures.

"Applying physics to real life is the most interesting part of this for me," Miller said.

Though designing the bridge on paper helped, said student Jim Strane, it didn't quite pan out the way they hoped.

"We planned it on paper and started building it, but we had to change the design twice because it failed," Strane said. "But throwing around ideas and working together is a lot of fun."

Competition is the real motivation, Tucek said. And the students agree.

"I want someone from here to win, but I really want to beat the other teams," student Alex Hunton said.

If the glory comes home to Penn-Trafford, it will be worth it, Miller said.

"As long as one of our teams makes a good showing, we'll be glad with what we did," he said. "If the trophy comes home to P-T, we'll all be happy."

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