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Kids Build Catapults, Towers at the U

Some 2,000 fifith- and sixth-graders will gather at the University of Utah the mornings of March 26-30 for the College of Engineering's 15th annual Elementary Engineering Week. Shown here are students building straw towers during a previous year's event.

March 22, 2012 – The University of Utah College of Engineering will host some 2,000 fifth- and sixth-graders for a free five-day event designed to introduce young students to the field of engineering and teach them practical engineering concepts.

Each day during the event, more than 400 students will visit the U to construct towers of drinking straws, catapult marshmallows and build clay fish as part of the college’s 15th annual Elementary Engineering Week. Students representing 28 schools from five school districts around the Salt Lake Valley will participate in the event.

From 9:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. MDT Monday, March 26, through Friday, March 30, the students will gather in the ballroom of the Olpin Union Building to participate. Elementary Engineering Week is not open to the public, but news media are invited to cover the event.

“The College of Engineering is pleased to host this popular event for kids each year,” says Deidre Schoenfeld, outreach and diversity coordinator for the college. “Students enjoy learning about the way science impacts our everyday lives, and the hands-on program encourages the students to improve their science aptitudes.”

Due to the popularity of this event in past years, the college continues to expand the number of schools its representatives visit throughout the year to expose students to the fun side of engineering. During the 2011-2012 academic year, the staff members visited more than 25,000 K-12 students at their schools.

Activities during Elementary Engineering Week include:

  • Straw Towers Contest. Students use drinking straws to build towers as tall as possible without collapsing in wind gusts. This activity teaches students about stability, function, material type and safety – principles civil engineers must consider when designing structures. Prizes are awarded for the tallest standing towers.
  • Catapult Contest. Schools bring their own small working catapults to demonstrate and use in the contest. The catapults will launch jumbo marshmallows at a target: an aluminum pie tin 12 feet from the starting line. Prizes are awarded to teams that hit the target.
  • Fish Blitz Contest. Clay is used to build a “fish” that is pulled by a weight through a tank of water. Students learn that changing the shape of an object – their fish – will cause it to move more quickly or slowly through the water.  Prizes are awarded for both the fastest and slowest fish of each round of the contest and for the entire day.

Since Elementary Engineering Week started 15 years ago, ConocoPhillips has provided an annual gift of $10,000 to be divided among schools participating in the event to support their math and science programs and provide books and supplies.

The economy in Utah is heavily reliant on a well-qualified workforce, especially engineers.  Engineers address the grand challenges of our day to improve quality of life.  Innovation in engineering is the force behind improvements in the environment, safety, productivity, communications, energy-efficiency and health care.

For more information about the College of Engineering, visit