Gold for Perse student in national physics competition
William Dickens (Lower Sixth) was right in the swing of things as his research into pendulums took Gold in a national physics competition.
He claimed the top accolade in the British Physics Olympiad’s Experimental Project competition with his investigation into the repetitive movement of compound pendulums, such as those found on clocks.
William said: “It looked like an interesting competition and the topic of compound pendulums appealed to me because from a young age I’ve been interested in clocks. My dad is a clock enthusiast as well and we have quite a few clocks with pendulums at home.
“I was really interested to learn more about them generally, as well as specifically the different factors affecting the time period of oscillation of the pendulum.”
Physics teacher Myles Thompson agreed to supervise William’s project, while the physics department technicians helped with the equipment he needed to carry out his research.
William said: “I had a metre rule, with holes drilled at different points, suspended from a stand and then had different masses I could screw on to it. It meant I could vary the amount of mass I was adding to the pendulum and the distance that the mass was from the suspension point on the stand.
“I was trying to see how these factors affected the time period of oscillation of the pendulum.”
Having carried out three different experiments over a series of sessions, William created graphs to work out trends from altering the mass or distance from the suspension point.
He also had to do some extra research to explain the physics behind his findings when putting together his written evaluation, which included an overview of the methodology behind his experiments.
William said: “It took quite a few drafts, but Mr Thompson was really supportive throughout. He was really encouraging, so I’m thankful to him and Dr Tricker (Head of Physics) for their help.”
Although he was thrilled to take Gold, William said he was just as pleased with what he had learned from taking part in the competition.
He said: “Experimental work at school is usually prescriptive, but although Mr Thompson was guiding me, I had to figure out how to do this experimental work.
“In real life, it’s not obvious how you go about experiments. You have to think about lots of different things, such as whether your methods are efficient or whether there are any inaccuracies in the measurements.
“A lot of what you’re writing in the report is how to reduce these errors to a minimum to ensure your experimental methods are as good as possible.
“Writing an essay also isn’t something you would usually associate with a science subject at this level, but it’s something that will certainly come in useful at university and beyond, so this gave me a real opportunity to develop my scientific writing skills too.
“This project was beyond anything I’ve studied in A level physics and I’ve gained so many skills from doing it, which is a real positive.”