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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Margaret Debelius, a senior at Bishop Kelly High school in Boise, Idaho, lines up her shot during the egg toss

FARMINGTON — The carrot-and-stick approach to studying science was at work Friday when Utah State University hosted Physics Day at Lagoon.

Organizer and USU physics professor J.R. Dennison said teachers tell him they can double the number of students in their science classes when they can promote a school day at the amusement park — all in the name of science.

Now in its 19th year, Physics Day has been around long enough that Dennison knows at least six participating science teachers who participated in Physics Day as students.

A "Physics Bowl" academic competition is one of several contests that can put confidence and enthusiasm for science in students' brains and scholarship offers in their pockets. Last year, USU gave participants six four-year scholarship offers and more than $75,000 worth of prizes provided by a laundry list of high-profile sponsors that include Boeing, NASA, Micron, Hill Air Force Base and the Navy.

The egg drop is a perennial favorite. Students package an egg in a protective container and drop it from the Sky Coaster that traverses the park onto a target on the asphalt below. USU students judge the drops based on whether the egg survives intact, how little the protective covering weighs and how close to the bull's-eye the egg lands.

Lone Peak High sophomore Crede Carter packaged his egg in a Styrofoam ball. A sample he made at home survived a test drop, but he wrapped the egg in a plastic bag before packing it, just in case he ended up with a mess on his hands.

Erik Anderson, also from Lone Peak High in Highland, didn't catch egg-drop fever until after he arrived at Lagoon. So he won a stuffed toy shark at a concession and used materials provided by USU to duct tape an egg inside the shark for his drop.

Ali Siahpush a mechanical engineer from Idaho National Laboratory, one of the event's sponsors, has helped staff the event for about 15 years. "They learn that physics and science are not just equations," he said, surrounded by table-top roller coaster models made by students. "We tell teachers 'tell your students the reward is Lagoon. Then go to work getting them excited about it."'

"What better laboratory to entice young people than an amusement park?" Dennison said. "I think it makes a big difference to come here and see 7,000 kids doing science stuff."

Dennison said he expects nearly 100,000 students will have participated in Physics Day when the event marks its 20th anniversary next year.


E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com