Students use science skills to defeat doomsday asteroid

July 25th, 2018

A team of students saved Planet Earth from a doomsday disaster – and met astronaut Tim Peake as their reward!

Three Ron Dearing University Technical College (UTC) students, Ellie Colclough, Adam Meese and Nathan Tennison, demonstrated out-of-this-world maths and physics skills to prevent an asteroid apocalypse.

The 17-year-olds were named as finalists in the national UTC Space Tech Challenge for a project which was illustrated by a two-minute video they submitted to the competition judges.

That earned them the opportunity to meet British astronaut Major Tim Peake, who became a worldwide celebrity during his time on board the International Space Station.

Nathan Tennison, Ellie Colclough and Adam Meese with astronaut Major Tim Peake after presenting their project, which made the final of the UTC Space Tech Challenge.

The students presented to Major Peake and representatives of UTC employer sponsors at the national UTC conference in London.

Their project was based on a real scenario when, in 2004, scientists discovered that an asteroid had a 2.7% possibility of hitting Earth in a cataclysmic impact in 2029.

Later observations indicated the asteroid – named Apophis after a villain in the TV series Stargate SG-1 – could pass through a “gravitational keyhole”, setting up a later impact in 2036. The possibility of disaster has subsequently been reduced further, with the latest odds of an impact, in 2068, rated as one in 150,000.

In their project, the students worked out the sophisticated maths and physics needed to change the trajectory of the Earth-bound asteroid and avoid a doomsday scenario.

Their video explained how the asteroid, 370 metres wide and with a mass of 25 billion kilogrammes, threatened to collide with Earth, in an impact producing a force of 750 megatons – the equivalent of 50,000 Hiroshima nuclear explosions.

The students set out their plan to alter the trajectory of the asteroid, thereby avoiding the planet’s gravitational pull, by striking it with a shuttle launched from Earth.

Using complex maths calculations and the laws of physics, the team worked out the angle and speed of the required strike – using a pool ball and an exercise ball!

Ron Dearing UTC Principal Sarah Pashley said: “Congratulations to the team for a fantastic project which really demonstrated their amazing maths and physics skills.

“If this asteroid again becomes a threat, at some time in the future, the world will have to get Ellie, Adam and Nathan on the case!”

Ellie and Adam are studying for A-levels in maths, further maths, physics and engineering, while Nathan is doing A-levels in maths, physics and digital technology.

You can view the team’s video on YouTube here. 

The Ron Dearing UTC team were up against teams from UTC Portsmouth and Bristol Technology & Engineering Academy in the UTC Space Tech Challenge Final.

Major Peake chose the Portsmouth students as the winning team for their project researching the potential of nuclear fusion impulse reaction drives. Their prize is a visit to the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands.

The national profile for the Ron Dearing UTC students illustrates the school’s success in developing young people with advanced technical skills.

The school’s employer-driven education model and curriculum blends academic excellence in the core subjects of English, maths and sciences with specialisms in digital technology and/or mechatronics – a combination of computing and engineering. 

For more information on Ron Dearing UTC and how to apply to join the school click here.

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