Three Raytheon-sponsored eighth-graders presented their award-winning science fair project to President Obama himself, showing the commander in chief and avowed basketball fanatic that common geometry holds the secret to sinking a three-pointer.
The team from Hudson, Massachusetts' Boys & Girls Club of Metrowest took its perfect-shot catapult to the 2014 White House Science Fair after a second-place finish at last year's Raytheon/New England Patriots' Science of Sports Science Fair. This year's contest took place June 1 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
"You're meeting the president. Not a lot of people get to do that," said Brooke Bohn, 14, part of the team that designed the catapult. "I had so many people ask me about it. My teacher was freaking out ... she was like, 'send me all the pictures you took.'"
Bohn trekked to Washington, D.C. for the presidential presentation alongside teammates, D.J. Bass and Gerard McManus, both 13. The trio took a tour of the White House and even snapped a selfie with TV science guy Bill Nye on their trip, but the three-minute project demonstration was clearly the highlight - especially when the 6-foot-1 president crouched behind McManus and jokingly asked whether the catapult would break anything as Bohn and Bass loaded a miniature basketball for launch.
"He was saying he didn't want it to go too fast," McManus said. "There was, like, some marshmallow shooter last year that shot very fast."
The team, called the Catapult Court CEOs, also includes Aayana Bass, 15, Marissa Cecca, 11, Colleen O'Malley, 11, and Leo Santos, 14. The students designed the catapult using the Pythagorean Theorem, the geometric formula that explains the relationship among the sides of a right triangle. The research helped D.J. Bass improve his three-point technique, and he said it showed him how math exists in "everything."
"This table is math. Everything's math - numbers, and how long it is, and all the angles in it," he said. Of the meeting with the president, he said, "It was cool, explaining to him what we were doing, and how we did it. I think he liked it, because he likes basketball."
Raytheon and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation join each year with the Boys & Girls Clubs of New England to host the Science of Sports competition. This year, 90 Raytheon volunteers mentored more than 150 students over five months to design projects that explore the math and science embedded in competitive sports.
The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics inspired many of this year's projects, including one that studied the triple Lutz figure-skating jump and another that delved into the physics challenges faced by para-athletes. The top three teams at the competition are awarded scholarships by Raytheon and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.