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Clarkson hosts roller coaster camp for students across county

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POTSDAM — Students from schools across St. Lawrence County are spending the week at Clarkson University learning how to build roller coasters.

More than 100 students in grades seven through 12 from St. Lawrence, Gouverneur, Lisbon, Ogdensburg, Norwood-Norfolk, Canton, Potsdam, Harrisville, Hermon-DeKalb and Heuvelton school districts participated in the eighth annual weeklong program called Integrated Mathematics and Physics for Entry to Undergraduate STEM, funded through the state’s Science and Technology Entry Program.

“We put together this camp, which brings students together and they work within a company structure to build a roller coaster, starting from an initial blueprint up to a scaled model and a first-rider experience and simulation software,” said Kathleen R. Fowler, co-director of the camp and math professor at Clarkson. “All along the way they’re doing the analysis to make sure the roller coaster would actually work and that it’s safe.”

Ms. Fowler said the program usually has 40 students, but this year the camp more than doubled.

“It’s grown and become more exciting and we’ve now got a record number of students in the camp,” said Peter R. Turner, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Clarkson. “I think it’s a fun learning experience for them all.”

Ms. Fowler said the students learn the physics of how a roller coaster works and use certain math concepts throughout the week.

“We want to inspire them to be interested in math, science and technology,” said Michael W. Ramsdell, Clarkson physics professor and co-director of the camp. “That’s why we picked a fun theme like roller coasters.”

The students are split up by age groups, with seventh- and eighth-graders in a group called concept engineers, who are in charge of creating a scale model of the roller coaster.

The ninth- and 10th-graders, the design engineers, are in charge of doing the computations to make sure there’s enough velocity for the roller coaster to complete the track, and the 11th- and 12th-graders are the safety engineers, in charge of using the software to create the simulation experience.

Ms. Fowler said the three divisions together are considered a roller coaster company.

“They’re basically using a computer program which is set up like a game where they’re building a roller coaster,” Mr. Ramsdell said.

Clarkson students also helped out with the camp.

Eric E. Fredette is a graduate student at Clarkson who has been helping with the camp for two years.

“I do enjoy working with different people,” he said. “It’s really nice to see different people’s backgrounds and help them in areas they struggle with.”

Ms. Fowler said they will be taking the students to the Great Escape at Lake George on Thursday to collect data from roller coasters at the park.

On Saturday, the students will be able to showcase their work to their parents with poster presentations.

James A. Miller, a 10th-grader at Madrid-Waddington High School, said this is his second year attending the camp.

“The experience shows you how to work together and the importance of math and science,” he said.

Tashauna E. Schofell, a 10th-grader from Lisbon High School, said she would like to continue coming to the camp throughout high school.

“I like taking a design that you don’t know will work and using the math and science to turn it into something practical,” she said. “It’s just a really good experience and IMPETUS is a really fun thing to be a part of.”

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