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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

Physics of Flight

Nearly 150 ninth-graders from a Marianist high school in St. Louis learned about the physics of flight on their visit to the University of Dayton and local aviation heritage sites.

Hosted by the University department of physics, the fifth annual “Physics of Flight” event Nov. 9-11 was a three-day field trip for 145 students from Chaminade College Preparatory School, an independent Catholic school for boys in grades six through 12 in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The school was founded in 1910 by the Society of Mary.

While in Dayton, the students visited Carillon Historical Park and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to learn about the development of powered flight from the Wright Flyer to modern-day unmanned aerial systems. On campus, they experienced the Merlin flight simulator in the School of Engineering, as well as virtual reality and laser laboratories within the College of Arts and Sciences.

“The Marianist brothers here at UD and the Marianist brothers in St. Louis decided to work together to create a three-day experience for their ninth grade class that ties together some of the wonderful things that we have for flight in the Dayton area with the lessons they are learning in their science classes,” said Todd Smith, associate professor of physics and the event’s program director.

Last summer, Smith worked with science teachers from Chaminade College Prep and Miamisburg High School in Miamisburg, Ohio, to develop physics-related activities for the visiting students, including a paper airplane competition and an airfoil design competition.

“Research in teaching has shown that hands-on activities produce better learning than just getting lectures,” Smith said, as dozens of Chaminade students worked with University faculty and undergraduate student volunteers in a campus conference room at Virginia Kettering Hall. “They are learning some basic physics by making airplanes and airfoils to try to figure out how an airplane works.”

Chaminade College Prep has an extensive experiential education program, with different class trips each year for grades six through 11 that are related to their curriculum, said Peter Vlahutin ’94, Chaminade associate principal for student development. The ninth grade trip, which also includes a stop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, focuses on the physics of both speed and flight.

“We try to get them to grasp some of those concepts in a more practical way,” said Vlahutin, who received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and religious studies from the University of Dayton. He also holds a master’s degree in theology from St. Louis University.

The trip also exposes students to some of the cutting-edge science and mathematics research being done at the University. Their campus walking tour included assistant professor Ju Shen’s virtual reality lab in the department of computer science and the Electro-Optics labs in the department of physics.

Previously, Chaminade ninth-graders visited U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, but that site was geared toward younger students, said Jack Wilson, Chaminade director of Global Reach, who oversees the school’s field trips.

“This seems to be a better fit for the curriculum the boys are covering at home, so they come here and are able to mesh that really well,” Wilson said. “Plus, with the Marianist connection, it made a lot of sense for the boys to come here, as well.”

For the University, the Physics of Flight event is a chance to showcase the campus to prospective students from Chaminade. Their tour also included the statue of Father William Joseph Chaminade, who founded the Society of Mary in 1817, as well as the RecPlex and Bookstore.

Vlahutin said about four to five Chaminade College Prep graduates each year enroll at the University of Dayton.

“The University is very generous in recognizing students from other Marianist schools in terms of scholarship and leadership, so that helps a lot of our guys out,” Vlahutin said. “Having been here already on a field trip helps, too.”

Smith said six Chaminade graduates from the first Physics of Flight event in 2012 are now first-year students at the University. “We definitely are seeing results in recruitment,” he said.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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