At Liberty High School in Eldersburg yesterday, students from across the region scrambled eggs, lost their marbles and tested their physics prowess.
With little more than thin paper, masking tape and creativity, about 300 high school students competed in the 12th annual Central Maryland Physics Olympics. They vied for points in six contests -- three they practiced for and three mysteries -- designed by physics teachers to test knowledge, ingenuity and teamwork.
"This is time to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to fun events," said Russ Meyers, physics teacher and football coach at Anne Arundel's Southern High School. "There are no textbooks here. It can really turn kids on to physics."
Meyers judged an event that required students to drop a raw egg from a balcony without cracking the shell.
"Today is a good day for scrambled eggs," Meyers said. "This is one of the tougher events that could make or break a team."
Thrilled that they had an intact egg after the drop, the team membersfrom Baltimore's Seton Keough High School planned to show off their ovoid trophy at classes tomorrow, until judges retrieved it for another team's toss.
The Liberty High School Kings, wearing paper crowns from the local Burger King restaurant, took the full 20 minutes to put together a paper parachute for the egg drop. Practice assured them of victory.
"In practice, this worked really well, and we tested it from a higher height," said Phil Pickett, 16. "It is just a question of working on deadline now."
The time factor took a toll. The Kings' egg dropped smoothly and landed soundlessly, but a slight crack disqualified the team.
"Cracked is broken," Meyers ruled. "It has to be the way you got it."
Charles I. Ecker, superintendent of Carroll County schools, watched as egg after egg splattered and said, "I think I would go with hard-boiled."
The Kings had better luck with bridge construction. After overloading their first paper span and spilling nine bowls of marbles, they came back quickly and built a second bridge strong enough to support one bowl fewer and nearly nine pounds of marbles.
In the school's media center, teams had to walk a plank held up by two cinder blocks. Without touching the floor, one contestant would walk as far as possible to one end of the board while teammates balanced the other end.
"Think of it as a diving board," said Michael Cameron, physics teacher at Baltimore's City College. "You probably want your heaviest person to walk the plank while the rest of you balance the board."
Cameron quickly denied Hammond High School's request to substitute a person for a cinder block. But he did allow the Howard County team to try climbing on one another's backs.
First place and $1,000, provided by the Maryland Space Business Roundtable, went to Northern High School in Calvert County, a team that racked up 1,576 points out of a possible 1,800. Calvert Hall College High School in Towson won the second-place trophy and South Carroll High took third. The Kings placed 29th in the field of 59.
If this Olympics had an award for tenacity, it would go to Julian Ball, a City College freshman who competed solo. His egg broke, his tower tumbled and he could not make his paper top spin. But he persevered, had a great time and plans to return next year.
"I am sure going to try to get teammates next year," Julian said. "I thought all these problems out, but it's really time-consuming by myself."