Carrboro teen wins Gravity Design Challenge

Oct. 07, 2013 @ 12:47 PM

She was tasked with designing a launcher, a transfer mechanism and an orbit well. Eiley Hartzell-Jordan did this so well that she won first place in the Gravity Design Challenge.

A McDougle Middle School eighth-grader, Hartzell-Jordan was one of 340 participants from across the nation to compete in the Gravity Design Challenge, an online science contest for teenagers that was inspired by the movie “Gravity.”
The competition was sponsored by Iridescent, a science and technology education nonprofit that is a part of the STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – education movement. Iridescent used its online science and engineering platform, Curiosity Machine, to allow mentoring scientists and engineers to give personalized feedback to the participants.
Hartzell-Jordan’s interest in science made her a perfect candidate for the challenge. After finding out about the competition through her step father who works at the North Carolina School of Science and Math, Hartzell-Jordan got to work.
“I found out (about the contest) a week before it was due,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something that was off the traditional track. It took me about 30 hours to make it.”
The “it” Hartzell-Jordan is referring to is a hand-built launcher, transfer mechanism and orbit well in the form of a Rube Goldberg machine. A Rube Goldberg machine is a purposely over-engineered machine that performs a task in a complex way, usually via a chain reaction.
Hartzell-Jordan’s balloon-powered rocket carried a Styrofoam ball to a funnel which was dropped into a v-shaped, cardboard track. The ball hits a heavier metal ball that rolls down another track, gaining enough momentum to enter orbit, through a mechanism of hanging magnets from a string with the help of a trampoline.
She pulled from many areas to put together her award-winning design.
“We had a rocket at home. My brothers are homeschooled and they had used a ball for rockets,” Hartzell-Jordan explained. “For the orbit, I wanted to do something different from the website.”
Under the mentorship of Bonnie Lei, a biology student at Harvard University, Hartzell-Jordan completed her project with sketches and videos of the design process.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said of the project. “It was really helpful and a lot of fun.”
Shannon Jordan, Hartzell-Jordan’s mother, said that science has been a newer interest of her daughter’s and that she was proud to see her daughter do dedicated to a task.
“I thought it was great to see how Eiley persevered through this challenge,” Jordan said. “She dealt with the frustration very well. I hadn’t seen her work that way through a school project like that. I liked biology a lot so it’s interesting to be able to talk to her about these things now.”
As the first-place winner, Hartzell-Jordan received a family trip to New York City for the premiere of the movie “Gravity” starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
Accompanied also by her best friend, Morgan Bellavia, Hartzell-Jordan said that the trip was “a lot of fun going to see the movie” and that the film was really good. She also got to meet her mentor face-to-face.
Hartzell-Jordan is hoping to attend NCSSM for high school. Right now she has an interest in studying immunology because she “likes the way the genes work and how to cure different diseases.”
Hartzell-Jordan doesn’t have too much free time but when she does, she spends it singing and participating in the Odyssey of the Mind team at McDougle Middle.
She has been raising money for a little girl in Guatemala to go to school for the last five years and soon she will be tutoring kindergarten through third-graders at El Centro Hispano.
“I really like helping people and kids,” she said.
A video of Hartzell-Jordan’s project can be viewed at