Week 5: The Eggonauts

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Sunday, June 29, 2014


Stephen Skolnick

Work, this week, consisted primarily of writing copy for the website that we're going to be putting up to correspond with our outreach poster series, and writing a bit for the PhysicsCentral Physics Buzz blog. The highlight of last week, though, came after work on Tuesday. One of the NASA interns, Kirsten, found out about a weekly "Science Night" at Argonaut, a small and out-of-the-way bar with a nautical theme. The event consists of a trivia contest and a mysterious-sounding "science challenge", so we naturally felt compelled to assemble a team and put our knowledge to the test. There turned out to be a third competitive aspect to the evening; the team that the hosts determined to have the best name would get a free bottle of wine. After a very formal nomination and voting process conducted by Ashley en route to the bar, we determined that our team name would be "Let us Atom".

Upon arrival we discovered that, in addition to being science night, Tuesdays are also taco night! After getting some discounted food and a few drinks, we were informed that the week's science challenge would be the classic "egg drop" experiment. Each team was given a bag containing a few clothespins, two sheets of printer paper, a few straws, dixie cups, cotton balls, and a strip of duct tape. During the ninety minutes we were given to turn these components into a working safety system to protect our egg from a two-story drop, we wrote down our answers to trivia questions about everything from Broca's aphasia to the chemistry of isopropanol. (No cell phones allowed, of course!)

From a midnight visit to the Lincoln Memorial.At drop time, we saw a great variety of designs from the different groups. One tried to turn their paper into a parachute, attached to a dixie-cup basket with duct tape. It didn't slow the egg's fall much, and turned sideways right before impact. Another group had produced something that bore a startling resemblance to the Pathfinder mars lander, except made of Dixie cups (which ended up pulverizing the egg as soon as it landed). We were the last group to drop, so the pressure mounted as each subsequent group tried and failed to deliver their payload safely to the ground. We had opted for a crumple-zone-heavy design with a conical shape made of paper (reinforced with drinking straws) to ensure that the apparatus would land nose-down. Finally it was our turn, with none of the other groups having succeeded. I was elected drop-man and I knew, as I hung out the window looking down at the other interns, that a $50 gift card to the bar was hanging in the balance.

A short drop later, Let Us Atom was the second team in the history of Argonaut Science Night to ever win the "triple crown", winning trivia, the science challenge, AND the naming competition. The title is great, but the free food and drinks are going to be even better; we're returning to defend the title this Tuesday.

Stephen Skolnick