During the fall 2011 semester, Howell Cheney Technical High School freshmen explored a number of exciting engineering concepts with Chemical Engineering doctoral student Neil Spinner, including an egg drop (profiled last month) and a bottle rocket experiment.
For the bottle rocket lesson, students supplied a clean, empty two-liter soda bottle: the basis for their rocket. Students were provided tape, cardboard, paper and manila file folders, which they trimmed and shaped into fins, cones, and modifications to their bottle in order to increase the mass and make the vessels more aerodynamic.
Neil explains that after assembling their rockets, the students determined the volume of water they wanted to place in their rockets and then the class moved outside. Each rocket was fitted onto a homemade launching pad and pressurized using an air compressor, to pressures up to 140psig. The students stationed themselves about 30 yards from the rocket/launch assembly, armed with a cord connected to the launch clamp. When pulled, the cord released the clamp, propelling the bottle rockets into the air, either vertically or at an angle.
The project allowed the students to apply various engineering lessons and to understand how engineering principles affect real-world outcomes. Neil notes that the students learned how to account for weight, aerodynamics, length, and shape in designing a rocket; and they were able to witness flight paths and forces such as wind drag, gravity and thrust.
The matchup of a UConn doctoral student and a Tech School class is made possible thanks to the GK-12 program at UConn, supported by a $2.7 million National Science Foundation award and intended to provide graduate students unique learning opportunities that will broadly prepare them for professional and scientific careers in the 21st century, while invigorating K-12 classrooms with valuable STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) lessons.