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Fencing by Paula and Alyssa

En garde! We're Paula and Alyssa, and we love fencing. Some people think fencing's old fashioned, but it's got to have something going for it, because it's been around over three thousand years! In modern fencing, electronic sensors tell you when a hit is scored, so accuracy is key. Since we're always trying to improve our fencing strategies, we asked: What effect does the force of attack have on accuracy?

What did we do?
We built a device that could "measure" the amount of energy behind different fencing attacks, known as the lunge, the thrust, and the parry. We used these attacks several times, recording the distance a pendulum on the device swung. We also tested the accuracy of these attacks, using a target that resembled a touch-tone phone dial. We aimed for the "5" in the center, and recorded where our weapon actually made contact.

What did we find out?
We found that the lunge generally had the most energy behind it, since you attack using your whole body. While the thrust is a faster attack, only the arm is behind it, so it doesn't have quite as much energy to it. The parry is an attack that comes in from the side, so energy is not given to the target quite as much as in the other moves. For accuracy, we found that the fencer's own skill has a lot to do with which attack is most accurate.

What can you do?
• Build a device to compare the amount of "push" coming from a sports ball. Set up a large box on a table. Throw a tennis ball at the box, and record how far it slides along the table. Use other kinds of balls, like baseballs or softballs. Come up with a way to throw the balls all at the same speed, to make a fair comparison. Does a heavier ball always shove the box farther?

• Use this sports investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!