They’re swinging away for science glory

Boys & Girls Club team puts wood to test at UMass Lowell bat lab
By Jack Minch
Sentinel & Enterprise


Leo Gonzalez, Kyle Klimowicz, or Trevor Leger could have been playing basketball, PlayStation or ping pong, but instead were sitting in a small office figuring out how to put together a display board for a scientific experiment Thursday.

They are part of a team at Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster competing for scholarship money in the Science of Sports Fair.

The team is scheduled to go up against 19 other teams at Gillette Stadium on May 6.

The New England Patriots, Raytheon and Boys & Girls Club are sponsoring the competition.

The concept is to come up with an idea that will improve a sport, either for an equipment manufacturer or a player, using science, technology, engineering and math.

The team, which includes also Trey Nieves, Hunter Sergey and Enrique Marquez, tested five types of wood to determine which would make the best baseball bats.

The team considered other experiments before settling on the woodenbat idea, said Trevor, 13, an eighth grader at Skyview Middle School.

They thought about testing the flexibility of snowboards and the different types of ice-hockey stops on skates, he said.

On Wednesday, the team took a field trip to the Baseball Research Center at UMass Lowell that is run by Director James Sherwood. Sherwood is also a mechanical-engineering professor and has worked with Major League Baseball since 1997 and tested bats for the NCAAsince 1999.

Sherwood was not available but his assistant Patrick Drane led the team through the center and let each member fire an air cannon used to test the durability of woods.

“We all got to fire the air cannon once,” said Leo, 12, a seventh grader at North Central Charter Essential School in Fitchburg.

Rocco Spagnuolo is the unit director for the club and the team’s mentor is Rick Stephens, an informationassurance engineer for Raytheon.

“These are the kids who wanted to do the work and get something out of it,” Spagnuolo said Thursday.

Stephens said he was new to mentoring the club when he took on the project in January and didn’t know what to expect from the team, dubbed Woodheads.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” he said.

They took the initiative and met once a week for an hour. Often they discussed the experiments outside the meetings.

The boys started coming up with their own ideas for the project and Stephens was able to stick to his role making sure they followed the scientific process to develop a hypothesis and come to a conclusion.

“The only science I ever thought of was: Swing at the right time,” Leo said.

The team decided to test wood by dropping a baseball onto a plank from about 6 feet.

They chose maple, cherry, oak, poplar and mahogany woods.

Spagnuolo tried to get ash, but there is a shortage so the experiments had to go on without it.

To be consistent in the experiments, the team built a frame of PVC piping with a tube 6 feet in the air.

A plank of wood was clamped to two concrete blocks below the tube.

The team placed a red-and-white measuring board behind the concrete blocks to study how high the balls bounced off the different woods.

To get a consistent read they held each baseball in the tube using their palms and swung down their arms to avoid putting spin on the balls, “because we don’t want the balls to have any spin on it and create another variable on it,” Kyle said.

The baseballs were positioned in the tube so the stitching on the baseballs would not hit the wood on impact.

With every detail seemingly covered, they dropped a baseball on each piece of wood 20 times.

The team used a camera to capture each bounce, Leo said.

They replayed the video in slow motion to record the measurements on each bounce.

Kyle, 12, a seventh-grader at Skyview Middle School, said the experiment concluded poplar and maple provide the best bounce.

Poplar bounced 25 1/2 inches, he said.

The team did not have an air gun like UMass Lowell, so it could not test durability, the boys said.

The May 6 competition is scheduled to be judged by Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Raytheon Chief Executive Officer Bill Swanson, and a surprise Patriots player.