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Boatloads of fun and physics
RUMFORD -- A group of students were joined by firefighters on the Swift River in a physics lesson using just cardboard, plastic and duct tape.
What also took place was a lot of wet fun and friendly competition on a summerlike day over warm waters.
On May 6, juniors from Mountain Valley High School made their way across the road with their cardboard boats, led by their teacher, Pam Rousseau, who was wearing a shirt with the words "Fysics is Phun!"
Rousseau said the event has been held on and off since 1999. It used to be used at Roxbury Pond back when Ken Murray was teaching.
But what made this year's event even more fun was that Rumford Fire Department, which has been on standby in the past while this event is happening, decided they would also participate.
"This is a fun way to bring physics into the classroom. Students have to figure dimensions and design the boats.
The fire department did very well. They were surprised how low the sides (of the boats) need to be," said Rousseau.
The firefighters were on duty but had provided coverage. They arrived with a fire truck, utility truck, life jackets and rope and a throw bag. Three of them, Chief Bob Chase and firefighters Ed Carey and Mike Arsenault, participated. A fourth, Dep. Chief Richard Coulombe remained in uniform on dry land.
While waiting for their "competition" to arrive, Chase noted that after "tablets and tablets of design sketches," they made their boats -- earlier that morning.
They suggestion names for their creations, such as the Edmund Fitzgerald, Bottoms Up, and I Sink Quick.
Arsenault, the newest firefighter on the force, had some extra incentive to do well as somehow he drew the short straw on buying lunch for the other firefighters. If his boat sunk, he would have to buy lunch. He would also have to buy lunch if they all were successful.
Arsenault's boat was a triangular design below with a flat top to lay on. When he laid own and started off, it quickly became apparent he could not paddle well with his arms. Instead of going to the other side of the river, he drifted to the rope where his boat flipped him. Later, Chase tried the same, laying on a cardboard boat, but he would also fall into the water.
Carey, however, did very well in his little boat and paddled successfully to the other side of the river and back.
The waters of the Swift River here were not that fast and that deep. However, there was enough of a current that boaters would drift into the yellow rope area, where they could pull themselves back to the start.
The students, predictably, did very well with their boats.
One large cardboard boat weighed 40 pounds. Firefighters joined the students in the boat, which easily handled five people (about 1,000 pounds), then six people (1,230 pounds) before it finally collapsed in the water.
Rousseau noted that the key to the competition was not how much weight could be put into a boat. Instead, students had to figure the ratio of the mass of the boat, divided by the weight of the occupants, multiplied by 100. The other goal of the competition was for each boat to navigate to the other side of the river and back, without being carried by the current over the yellow rope across the river they could use to reel themselves back.
Student Devon Hamel said the event "was a blast. It's all about buoyancy."
Asked about the competition with the firefighters, he noted, "That was fun."
The part who enjoyed the most? "Pushing Melanie (McDiffett) out of the (six-person) boat."
Rousseau thanked Gallant's Furniture, who not only donated the cardboard but delivered it as well.
She said the students enjoyed the competition with the firefighters and hope they can do it again next spring.
Chase noted, "Tomorrow, I'm starting work on next year's boat."
It was fun with physics on the Swift River recently between Mountain Valley High School physics students and Rumford firefighters as they tested how well their creations of cardboard, plastic and duct tape could stay afloat. One point, they combined efforts to try to get six people in a boat, but not before Devon Hamel pushed a surprised Melanie McDiffett off the boat. Behind them are Erich Zurhorst, Mike Arsenault and Bob Chase of the Rumford Fire Department, are Cody Smith. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)