Solving Problems in Physics and Industry

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In high school, a “problem” is a question that a student is expected to solve within no more than 30 minutes and which has a single correct answer. The Physics and Industry program offered to high school students at the Weizmann Institute is an encounter with an entirely different sort of problem: one that has many possible solutions and which requires more than a year’s work. Over the past decade, some 200 high school students have joined the program and worked their way to a solution; the ninth Physics and Industry group recently presented their final projects in a special ceremony.
(l-r) Noa Brendel and Avital Sandler of the Aharon Katzir High School working to perfect their final project



The Physics and Industry program was developed in the Institute’s Science Teaching Department and has been offered through the Davidson Institute of Science Education, the educational arm of the Weizmann Institute. Volunteer engineers from the El Op electro-optics company, of the Elbit Systems group, guide students through different stages of their projects. Ongoing research and guidance by students of the Science Teaching Department accompanies the program.

As opposed to the standard high school math or physics problem, the Physics and Industry problems are chosen by the students themselves. Working in pairs, they select a challenge that arouses their curiosity or touches them personally. Before they begin working on their problem, they learn techniques of Systematic-Inventive Thinking (SIT). Originally created in Russia and adapted for school-aged students by the Science Teaching Department, These techniques help them develop a critical, innovative approach to engineering and design. The students then go to work on models of solutions to their chosen problems, beginning with initial models that are unrealistic and imaginary. They then “reverse engineer” their way to more workable solutions. Along the way, they gain insight and knowledge of the physical principles needed to design functional models.

Physics and Industry project



One of the final projects presented this year related to a current issue – one that the Defense Ministry has requested large sums of money to solve. Yuval Brendel of the Aharon Katzir High School in Rehovot posed the problem of protecting the security of the offshore rigs that have recently begun drilling for gas near Israel’s coast. His solution (arrived at through various iterations of his initial model), employs microphones on buoys, which can pick up sound waves underwater and, through overlapping recordings, clear most of the background noise. The microphones are arrayed in three rings: The outer ring can identify the sound of an approaching motor and activate the two other rings; the middle ring identifies the direction and velocity of the moving object; the inner ring provides exact information about the intruding object’s position.    

The display of final projects was as varied as the students who created them. Two students from Gymnasia Gan Nahum in Rishon Lezion built a model of a laser system for sighting soccer goals, to aid referees in deciding close calls. Students from the Zevulun Hammer High School in Bat Yam developed a mechanism for regulating the flow of light through glasses in order to prevent temporary blinding in bright light. Two students from the Lamerhav School in Petach Tikvah and the Aharon Katzir High School in Rehovot developed a system that enables children on the high end of the autism syndrome to practice social interaction; another team, from Rehovot, created a new type of security system for art on museum walls.

Drs. Rami Arieli and Dorothy Langley have learned over the years of working with the program that, just as there are many problems to be solved, there are even more solutions of different kinds to be tried. “Each student is unique, and thus each project is unique,” says Arieli. The students receive physics matriculation grades for their models, but the real benefit, he says, is in the lesson they have learned in solving real-world problems through systematic analysis and practical work.