For most 13-year-olds, entering a nationwide science competition consisting of mainly high school students would take months of planning, preparation and practice. For McDougle Middle School 8th grader Eiley Hartzel-Jordan, it took seven days.
“I actually found out about it a week before the deadline to enter,” said Hartzell-Jordan. “It took me 30 hours to finish so I did a lot of work after school and over the weekend.”
Hartzell-Jordan was one of 340 participants from across the country who entered the Gravity Design Challenge, an online science competition open to 13-18 year olds that was inspired by the new movie “Gravity.”
The competition was sponsored by Iridescent, a science and technology education nonprofit that is a part of the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education movement.
Her task was to build at least three components for a Rube Goldberg space mission: a launch mechanism, an orbit transfer mechanism and a gravity well that stimulates the orbit.
“The transfer mechanism probably took the longest, trying to get the marble to hit the trampoline in the same spot every time,” said Hartzell-Jordan.
Her balloon-powered rocket carries a Styrofoam ball up to a funnel, which drops the ball into a v-shaped, cardboard track. The ball then hits a heavier metal ball that rolls down another track, and with the help of a trampoline and a system of hanging magnets from a string, gains enough momentum to enter orbit.
Hartzell-Jordan’s stepfather, who works at the North Carolina School of Science and Math, found out about the competition at work — from there, Eiley turned an interesting idea into a first-place project.
“It meant a lot (to win),” she said. “I mean it was from ages 13-18 and I’m 13, so being the youngest possible age and it being all across the country with that many people made it really cool.”
When asked where her inspiration for the project came from Hartzell-Jordan said, “So I could have the chance to meet Sandra Bullock.”
As first-place winner of the challenge, Hartzell-Jordan took a trip with her family and best friend Morgan Ballavia to New York City for the premiere of Bullock and George Clooney’s new movie “Gravity”.
“I got to sit in the theater, pretty close to the screen,” said Hartzell-Jordan, who said her favorite part of the trip was seeing Sandra Bullock in the theater.
“We were one of the first groups in the theater so I got to see her when she walked in,” she said.
Stephen Hartzell, Hartzell-Jordan’s father, said when his daughter isn’t designing prize-winning science projects, she spends her free time singing, playing the guitar and participating in her school’s dual language program (Spanish) and Odyssey of the Mind team.
“I want to be an immunologist,” said Hartzell-Jordan. “I want to study genes and how and why different people get different diseases depending on their genes.”
She wants to apply to the North Carolina School of Science and Math for her last two years of high school, but as for early college aspirations, Hartzell-Jordan has no favorites.
Her college choices may be up in the air, but one thing is for sure — in four years one lucky university will get to watch this bright young mind continue to shine.
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