The University Physics Competition 

The 2010 University Physics Competition

The 2010 contest started on Friday, November 5, 2010 at 6pm MDT, when the following problems were posted:

Problem A.  Aerobraking a Space Probe at Neptune:


In order to enter a circular orbit around another planet, a spacecraft must change its trajectory upon arrival; otherwise it will fly past the planet.  If this trajectory change is done with a rocket engine alone, the fuel required for this can contribute significantly to the cost of the mission.  However, if the spacecraft’s trajectory carries it through the atmosphere of the planet, then the resulting drag can significantly reduce the amount of fuel required.  Consider a 2,500 kg spacecraft to be sent to the planet Neptune, arriving at a speed of 30 km/s.  How much margin of error would be allowed in designing a trajectory through the outer atmosphere of Neptune which would save a significant amount of fuel?


Problem B.  Trebuchet:  The Dynamics of a Medieval Siege Engine


The trebuchet was a type of catapult which used a sinking counterweight to throw a projectile.  The counterweight was fixed to a short arm, which extended through a fulcrum to a long arm, where a projectile was attached at the end of a sling.  Consider a trebuchet, powered by a counterweight with a mass of 5,000 kg which is raised 2 meters above the ground.  What would be the best arm lengths and sling length, in order to maximize the damage done by the projectiles?

58 teams submitted solutions for judging before the 48 hour deadline had elapsed.  The following announcement of results was made on Monday, December 6, 2010:

Full results announcement and complete listing of all medals in the 2010 University Physics Competition

We are very pleased to announce the results of the first annual University Physics Competition. The University Physics Competition is an international contest for undergraduate students, who worked in teams of up to three students at their home colleges and universities all over the world, and spent 48 hours during the weekend of November 6 & 7 analyzing an applied scenario using the principles of physics, and writing a formal paper describing their work.

During this, our inaugural year, 58 teams submitted papers for judging. 31 teams selected "Problem A - Aerobraking a Space Probe at Neptune" and 27 teams selected "Problem B - Trebuchet: The Dynamics of a Medieval Siege Engine."

For Problem A, the Gold Medal Winning Team was:

Team 160: Ari Cukierman, Olivia Walch, & Dian Yang
Institution: The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia
Team Advisor: Christopher Carone

The 2010 Problem A Gold Medal Winning Paper: "Voyage to Neptune"

For problem B, the Gold Medal Winning Team was:

Team 210: John Sanders
Institution: Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri
Team Advisor: William Thacker

The 2010 Problem B Gold Medal Winning Paper

Of the 58 teams in the 2010 University Physics Competition, 2 teams (3%) were ranked as Gold Medal Winners, 8 teams (14%) were ranked as Silver Medal Winners, 16 teams (28%) were ranked as Bronze Medal Winners, and 32 teams (55%) were ranked as Accomplished Competitors. The 2010 University Physics Competition received official sponsorship from the American Physical Society and American Astronomical Society, which provided prizes for the gold medal winning teams.

We extend our sincerest congratulations to each of the 58 competing teams for their excellent work and their enthusiasm for physics!

Kelly S. Cline
Carroll College; Helena, MT
Director of the 2010 University Physics Competition,