BEACON FALLS — For four students, physics means a chance to conquer problems and win awards.
Woodland Regional High School’s physics team, led by science teacher Mark Mierzejewski, took first place in an event at the Yale Physics Olympics Oct. 19 at Yale University in New Haven. The Olympics consisted of four experiments and a knowledge test.
The team, made up of seniors Alexa Kiernan and Jake Boncal and juniors JD Dyckman and Jake Mancini, took fist place in the Vector Sedition event.
According to the Physics Olympics’ website, the event featured a measured coursed where the teams had to travel each leg at a different set speed.
“They would give us a tape measure and a stop watch and we would just practice walking a certain distance in a certain amount of time. We would remember not only the distance we would walk, but how we would walk it. That’s how we won,” Dyckman said.
Each of the team members used a trick to traverse their leg of the course at a different speed. Kiernan said she sang a song in her head and walked to the beat of it. Boncal, who had the slowest leg of the race, contorted his legs and feet to help him move at the correct speed.
“I would count. I would think about how many steps I would have to take. For however many seconds it was I would take two steps,” Dyckman said.
Despite all the effort they put into the event, the team was surprised when they found out they won.
“They listed off the times other people got. We had to get 65 seconds. Some team got 65.5 and was in second place. I thought, ‘All right, we’re out.’ Then they called us and said 65.1 and I was shocked,” Boncal said.
“I said that if they announce it’s us I’m just going to start laughing. And I did while we were walking up,” Dyckman said.
The four students were not the only ones who were pleasantly surprised by the win.
“I was so happy for them. Usually I have planned speeches when they didn’t do so well. I’m really good at giving those speeches. So I didn’t really know what to say when they won. I thought wow, this is a great feeling,” Mierzejewski said.
Mierzejewski said he’s been bringing teams to the competition since it began in 1998.
“I’ve had two or three teams place, but no team has ever made first place,” Mierzejewski said. “This group of all-stars is the first.”
The team did not know how they did in the rest of the events since only the top three teams were posted for each.
Fifty different teams from across the Northeast competed at the Physics Olympics, according to Mierzejewski
“There are schools that are dedicated to math and physics, a lot of private schools. So there was really strong competition,” Mierzejewski said. “I would have been thrilled to come in the top three. To come in at one is really, really awesome.”
In addition to winning the competition, the four students have gained a greater appreciation for physics through the club.
“I think it’s fun because you apply science. It’s not like most science classes where you just do work sheets. You can actually apply it to different things,” Boncal said.
Kiernan echoed Boncal’s statement, saying she enjoys the understanding that physics brings.
“It’s just kind of cool because you finally get to figure out why certain things happen, even just everyday things,” Kiernan said.
Mancini added, “You get to find out how the world works.”
While they may not make it their college major, the students plan on continuing to study physics in the future.
“I’m definitely taking physics in college. I think this will help a lot because it is thinking outside the box,” Kiernan said.
Dyckman and Mancini said, since they are juniors, they are planning to join the team again next year.
Mierzejewski said when the team first heard they won, they wanted to put their win down to just luck.
“I think now they are starting to realize that they’re very talented to get what they did and they beat a lot of other teams that had teachers help the students out. I was really, really proud of them and glad that they were not only able to enjoy the day but win something,” Mierzejewski said.