MK students are go for launch…

Dr Leanne Gunn, The Open University
Dr Leanne Gunn, The Open University

Following the success of last yearโ€™s competition, July 2014 once again saw bottle rockets launching from the school field of Denbigh Teaching School in Milton Keynes.

Four teams of six year 9 students, each representing a different Milton Keynes school competed on the day to build two successful rockets 2 litre plastic bottles and simple craft materials.

I was working on the competition as one of the organisers, working with a team that included: Richard Holliman, Ben Dryer, Vic Pearson, and Diane Ford from the Open University, Mark Russell and Val Hawthorne from Denbigh Teaching School, and Jessica Carr who was working as an intern.

Here's how the day went...

With the support of Open University researchers, staff at Denbigh Teaching School and teachers from their home schools teams were encouraged to use scientific methods to modify their bottles.

By systematically changing one variable at a time, and recording data from test launches, the teams were able to find the best launch inclination, water volume, air pressure, and rocket design to fit the purpose of each of their two rockets; one for maximum distance and the other for accuracy at hitting a target.

Photograph of Gareth Davies
Gareth Davies, The Open University

Gareth Davies from The Open University spent most of the day on the field staffing the rocket launchers and marking where the rockets landed. He commented on how encouraging it was the hear the teams:

"discussing amongst themselves what parameters affected the flight of their rockets and what they thought they needed to change to improve their distance and accuracy".

After lunch the competition took place in front of a panel of judges, including the Mayor of Milton Keynes Subhan Shafiq. Each team gave a short presentation explaining the results of their morning test launches and why they had settled on their final rocket designs.

Walton High Students, describing their water rocket design
Walton High Students, describing their water rocket design

In the end the rocket from St. Paul's flew the greatest distance at over 94.10 m, while the team from Walton High landed a rocket closest to the target.

The team with the best design, and the best explanation of how they'd arrived at that design, was also Walton High.

At the end of the day it was Walton High who left with the trophy as the best all round team. They became the 2014 bottle water rocket champions, taking the trophy from last years winners, MK Academy.

All the competitors received key rings for taking part. They also contributed to the evaluation of the event. The organisers will use the results of the evaluation to inform the event next year.

About the author
I have recently completed a PhD, forecasting the duration of future volcanic eruptions. I am about to start working as a science communicator for Science Made Simple where I will be presenting inspirational and educational science shows to schools across the UK. This new role will combine my interest and enthusiasm for science with my passion for public engagement.

The Water Rocket Competition was organised as part of the OU's RCUK-funded SUPI partnership with the Denbigh Teaching School Alliance. For further information about the project, select: Engaging Opportunities.

To find about more about RCUK's School-University Partnership Initiative (SUPI), select:

The organizing team are particularly grateful to Dr Mike Bullivant, who built the rocket launchers and launch mechanisms, and to the eSTEeM Research Centre for generously funding aspects of the competition.