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Student mythbusters attend Clarkson summer camp

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POTSDAM — North country high-school students used science to separate fact from fiction at Clarkson University’s “Mythlimpics,” a science camp devoted to exploring the truth behind common conceptions.

Friday was “Spy Day,” with activities devoted to exploring the validity of common action-movie tropes.

“We’ve all seen it in a movie,” Clarkson environmental engineering professor Shane W. Rogers told the students, who had gathered at a firing range to test various gun myths.

“There’s a gunfight going on and somebody ducks behind a car door to return fire. Is that a good idea or a bad idea?”

Students cut human-shaped targets out of foam thatwere set up downrange, behind a discarded car door, which then was blasted with two rifles and a shotgun by an Army ROTC volunteer.

It blocked some of the impact, but not enough to keep the intrepid foam action-movie hero from taking a few bullets.

Other “Spy Day” myths tested included whether it is possible to use liquid nitrogen to make a lock cold enough to shatter (it is) and whether it is possible to fool a lie detector (not easily).

Students slept at Clarkson for the four-day camp. They arrived Wednesday, and will return home today.

On Thursday, the students tested various environmental myths and explored the various arguments about the causes of global warming. Today will be devoted to various food-related myths.

“I thought it was pretty cool. There’s a lot of different myths that we’re trying to bust,” said Norwood-Norfolk High School junior Leah P. Livernois.

The program was open only to high-achieving students, who had to apply to attend the camp. Each of the 16 students will receive a $1,000 a year scholarship for four years, sponsored by Alcoa, if he or she chooses to attend Clarkson University.

“We think what they’re learning is how to solve open-ended questions,” said Michelle Crimi, Clarkson environmental engineering professor.

High-school students are used to classwork that leads to a definite answer, Ms. Crimi said. By applying themselves to busting myths, they learn to deal with the uncertainty that is such a large part of life outside of school.

“There’s not always one best answer, the answer you can circle at the end of your homework assignment,” Ms. Crimi said.

The “Mythlimpics” were not without an element of competition. Throughout the weekend’s activities, the 16 students were divided into five teams. They are being judged on their adherence to the “Four ‘C’s:”: collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking.

The students on the winning team would see their scholarships upped from $1,000 a year to $5,000 a year for four years.

The competition drove some, but most were just enjoying the chance to see some myth-busting in action.

“It just seemed fun. It’s the Mythlimpics. It’s figuring out problems,” Potsdam High School junior Trevor T. O’Brien said. “It’s been a great time.”

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