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Elon Academy takes boats for spin on Lake Mary Nell

It takes more than cardboard and trash bags to make a boat that can cross Lake Mary Nell. Mathematics, physics and engineering play a role in the process, too, as scholars in the Elon Academy discovered Thursday afternoon when they set sail across the pond as part of the “Challenges in Engineering” course offered this summer in the academic enrichment program for Alamance County teenagers.

Graham High School senior Araceli Morales piloted the "Voyager" boat across Lake Mary Nell in a time of 9:15.

Led by associate professor Rich D’Amato, the scholars worked in teams of four for two days on their vessels – “Voyager,” “Rainboat,” “Titanic” and “Banana” – before testing their seaworthiness. “Rainboat” and “Titanic,” unfortunately, sprung one too many leaks and dropped like rocks just moments into their maiden sails on June 17.

“Voyager” and “Banana,” however, held steady as their captains steered the boats across the lake and back, racing against the clock for bragging rights as fastest ship. Dozens of Elon Academy classmates cheered on the scholars holding the paddles.

“This is a fun activity, but they’re learning how to apply science and mathematics,” D’Amato said as he timed “Voyager,” steered by Graham High School senior Araceli Morales. “And of course we had to talk about buoyancy, which deals with physics.”

Associate professor Rich D'Amato timed the performance of boats built by students, who worked in groups of four to design and construct the vessels.

Morales crossed the lake in a time of 9:15, two minutes faster than Cummings High School junior Xavier Winstead, who navigated “Banana” on the same part in a time of 11:15. “It felt like two hours!” Morales said, describing how she needed to keep her balance and posture upright to prevent the boat from listing. “That’s why my back hurts right now! Building a boat is really hard and it takes a lot of math to do.”

Winstead told a similar story. “It was hard,” he said. “I had to take a couple of breaks, and my shoulders are really tired.”

This was the second year for the Elon Academy engineering course.

Eric Townsend,
6/21/2010 9:38 AM