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Scientific secrets of skyscapers revealed to students

The secrets behind the construction of the world’s most dramatic buildings and how they stay up, brought physics to life at St Cuthbert and Sacred Heart RC High Schools in Newcastle.

Over 250 pupils aged 11 and 12 years old at both schools had physics lessons where they learnt about forces through examining bridges and buildings such as the high rise blocks in Dubai and structures like the Tyne Bridge.

The sessions, based on civil engineering facts, had the classes divided into small groups of four or five pupils where they had to build bridges up a metre long and cranes then test them to destruction. Through their vigorous testing the students were able to see which shapes provided the most stability.

Charles Harrison, who organised the sessions for his school, St Cuthberts, said: “’This is our third year of a very successful partnership with the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE). This year alone we have worked for 15 hours with the ICE on projects with our students. The pupils learnt a great deal from this project and they found out the most information from the structures which failed. They also now see the buildings all around them in a different light, as they are starting to understand how they are put together.”

Michael Barr from Sacred Heart was equally enthusiastic: “"This is an excellent example of the teacher-led Newcastle School’s Excellence and Innovation Partnership working alongside Newcastle Science City, and other organisations to provide an enriched educational experience. We are very lucky to be receiving funding from One North East and Newcastle City Council, to help teachers facilitate this kind of experience. Together, we are enthusing students and inspiring them to be the Engineers and Scientists of the future, which is crucial to the development of both our region and our country."

Peter Arnold, chief executive, Newcastle Science City said: “This is a great initiative as it introduces students to the concept of engineering and physics in an interesting way and enables them to relate it to their everyday life. I am sure it will encourage them to realise how exciting a career in civil engineering can be.”

Mike Gardiner from the ICE led the sessions at both schools and was able to explain why some students’ bridges and cranes collapsed more quickly than others. Through his guidance students learnt that triangles are the most useful shape to build a strong structure and that if they modified the ideal guidelines for their bridge and went against the engineering drawing, the structure also collapsed more quickly.

The schools plan to run the project next year and base it around buildings and bridges in and around Newcastle.

Dated: 16/04/2009

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