In February 2023, we brought 30 students from Sawston Village College, Coleridge Community College and Bottisham Village College to the incredible MathWorks offices in the Cambridge Science Park for their first Cambridge LaunchPad Project Day. This event was focused on the principles of flight and how the students could apply maths to create and test paper planes using MathWorks’ own MATLAB software.
Throughout the day the students moved between multiple activities focusing on the four main principles of flight: lift, weight, thrust, and drag. These principles are what make it possible for aeroplanes (or paper planes) to stay in the air. During one task, the students were testing how weight and the centre of gravity affect flight by attaching varying numbers of paper clips to different points of their planes and monitoring the flight results. In another task, they were measuring the time, height loss and distance of flights. They then entered the values into MATLAB to find the glide slope and speed before tweaking and testing again to monitor improvement.
In the afternoon, everything they learned was put to the test as they competed in teams to create new planes that would be judged by distance and time in the air. They could build their crafts from any materials available from the project shop and there were extra points available for the cheapest build, style and flair. Watching the different designs and techniques being tested, it was evident that everyone was putting in their best effort and proved that the principles of flight had been understood and utilised effectively.
We had some wonderfully positive feedback after the event with students commenting on what they learnt.
“I learnt how maths can apply significantly in aircraft design.”
I discovered that “weight is very important in aircraft. And that one of the most important components in aircraft is size and materials.”
A huge thank you to MathWorks for hosting this fantastic event! We hope to see more events like this in the future, where students can explore their creativity and passion for maths and science!