Studying Rocket Science – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Studying Rocket Science

Stomp rocket 2In a series of instructional videos, students in Assistant Professor of Physics Leslie Hebb’s first-year seminar break down the basic physical principles behind rocket science. The videos document their work on one of the semester’s main experiments, revolving around homemade rockets powered by forced air pressure.

Using plastic bottles, simple pipes and couplings, and paper rockets, first-year students in “Playground Physics” constructed stomp rocket apparatuses and conducted a series of test flights measuring “some very fundamental laws of nature,” explain Joshua Marek ’22 and Claire Casebolt ’22.

Real rockets, Marek says, “take advantage of Newton’s third law: the physical principle that each action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is the primary physical principle that allows for rocket flight. The minor details of the rocket’s design are responsible for its overall success in flight.”

Walking through the stomp rocket construction and experimentation, the student videos cover not only Newton’s third law but the challenges of comparing the velocities between different rockets, the impact of rocket fin size and shape on flight duration and height, and how to construct the rockets themselves.

Watch the videos:

Matthew van Wormer ’22 and Shane Pursch ’22

Emily Rundlett ’22

Joshua Marek ’22 and Claire Casebolt ’22

Julia Bellamy ’22 and Olympia Canales ’22

Matthew Bruno ’22 and Hailey Sanchez ’22

Throughout the semester, Hebb and her students also explored the physics of billiards and conducted free-fall experiments by dropping objects from the catwalk in the Bartlett Theatre.

“We also made a trip to Darien Lake Amusement Park to experience the physics of roller coasters,” Hebb says. “And we read a history of science book called Leviathan and the Air Pump on the emergence of experimentation as a method for gaining knowledge.”

Ultimately, she says, the goal of the course “was to show the students how much fun physics and experimentation can be and to practice scientific writing.”