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Fox Lane High School Continues Beloved Tradition of Physics Grand Prix

Physics students pose with their rubber band cars Fox Lane High School recently held its annual Physics Grand Prix, a tradition that started in 2005. 

“The Physics Grand Prix is a project where students build and test rubber band-powered cars with a design objective of maximum distance,” explained physics teacher Salvatore Tatto, who ran the races along with teachers Jim Doller and Jerry Ludwig. “As students work through this challenging project, they integrate all of the different parts of the engineering design process including brainstorming, designing, building, evaluating, and revising to arrive at a solution that meets the goal of the project.”

The morning of the races, students lined the wide, sunlit flag hallway, cheering as if they were at a football game. But, instead of athletes, they rooted for small rubber band-powered cars as they inched down a makeshift track.

“It’s really hard to make a car go fifteen meters powered only by a rubber band,” said junior Sonja Vogel. Vogel and her teammate Mia Bensusan created one of the fanciest cars of the morning — complete with fake snow, twinkle lights and an Elf on the Shelf.

“We could use any wheels and it could be any weight,” Vogel explained of the car’s construction. “You just have to figure out what goes farthest.”

“We get graded on the distance it travels,” Bensusan added. “There are awards for the car that goes the farthest and the one with the best design. We made ours as cute as possible.”

“Open-ended challenges like the rubber band-powered car have no single right answer,” Tatto said. “Students manage their own time, apply what they know, learn new concepts, learn to work efficiently with a partner, and are inspired to come up with their own solutions.”

While race participants were juniors, some senior physics classes stopped by to watch and reminisce about past races. Some cheered for friends and siblings, while others remembered the cars they had made the year before.

“When looking back, the rubber band-powered car is a hallmark of the students’ time in physics at Fox Lane,” said Tatto.

This year’s winner was Jack Williamson. His car traveled a total distance of 36.5 meters. The all-time record was achieved by Ben Sandler and Kyle VanCleave in 2014. Their car traveled 54 meters.

FLHS Physics Grand Prix