Magnetic fields propel girls toward success in Tournament of the Minds

19 September 2019

Meriden is celebrating the wonderful performance of its teams which competed in the gruelling Tournament of the Minds, with our STEM team being awarded second place in the competition.

On the day, each team has three hours to prepare a presentation that meets the criteria of a unique challenge in their focus areas. The teams go into “lockdown” and must only rely on their own knowledge, with no access to the Internet.

The Language-Literature team offered an excellent theatrical performance of an online game that explored the ethics of gaming. Girls in the STEM team were challenged to imagine themselves an “alien space team” tasked with explaining to humans how to navigate a spaceship between planets using magnetic fields.

The Language-Literature team included Crystal Fu Chen, Paris Chia, Nicole Jiang, Joanna Li, Alicia Wang, Arena Wang and Nikki Yi.

The girls in the STEM team were Talia Jee, Kitty Jiang, Imogen Leon, Holly Webb, Emma Wen, Esther Wu and Crystal Zhao.

Crystal, Year 10 student and STEM team captain, said fulfilling all the criteria of their challenge was a difficult task.

“We needed to plan a presentation explaining our scientific knowledge and create a working model that operated without human intervention as well as an animation that demonstrated how our spaceship would navigate using just one laptop with no Internet!” she said.

“In our presentation, we set the scene in an alien history class where students were being taught how their species helped humans use magnetic fields for space travel. As part of the class, we explained how an electromagnet could be turned on to move a spaceship towards a celestial body and then turned off to move past its magnetic field. We also debated whether Earth should rely on fuel or magnetism for space travel and explained the science behind Newton’s First and Third Laws, magnetism and fossil fuels.”

The girls built a working model of a spaceship using a piece of plastic straw that had four small magnets attached to it. This was then threaded with string. A Styrofoam ball on a skewer was embedded with a magnet and used to move the rocket along the string as the poles on the planet and the rocket repelled each other.

Crystal said the team’s biggest advantage was their ability to work cooperatively, as aspects of the challenge required many repetitions and adjustments to get right.

“As a team, we know each other’s strengths, so we delegated different roles that best suited each of our skills, whether that was script-writing or hands-on crafting. We’re a very close-knit team and have a great dynamic, which means we’re able to build on each other’s ideas as well. The competition has taught us how to stay calm and adapt our ideas and approaches to difficult tasks and how to trust in each other to get the job done.”

Esther Wu, Year 10, agreed that the team pulled together in the many challenging moments during their preparation time.

“We struggled to complete the challenge, in all its complexity, in just three hours,” Esther said.

“In particular, we had difficulty creating the physical model. It took innumerable failed attempts with the magnets before we found a functional solution. Later, when my Fusion360 app – which I had intended to use for the animation – crashed intermittently and hindered my progress, it was heartening to hear everyone in the team give me encouragement. To top it off, Crystal was an excellent leader and was able to keep everyone motivated and on track.”

Esther said participating in Tournament of the Minds has been a beneficial experience for her as she picked up new skills and gained self-confidence.

“The competition has greatly extended my knowledge of different areas of STEM through the research we undertook while training, especially regarding the processing of DNA,” Esther said.

“My greatest improvement was in my 3D modelling and animation skills in Fusion360. The state challenge forced me to learn how to think creatively under pressure and rely on our team. Since I have no drama experience and always get nervous at the thought of performing in front of a large and unfamiliar audience, I had to learn to be more confident on stage. I was surprised at how well I was able to perform and improvise.”