How Are STEM Fields of Study Connected to Athletics?

Departments across UNH team up to demonstrate the practical applications of STEM in sports
Student works on building a moustrap car

What does throwing a football have in common with racing a car? Both require balance, precise timing and accuracy — conditions that are all based in science. Lean a little too far to the right or lack the proper velocity? The football will miss its target and the car will swerve off course. On November 2, 2019 spectators can watch both activities at UNH Wildcats STEM Day, an interactive event to promote science, technology, engineering and math, in coordination with UNH athletics.

Before the football team’s home game against Villanova, students from across the state will display and race cars powered by levers attached to mousetraps and with wheels made from DVDs or CDs. The cars are assembled with dowels, cardboard, straws, duct tape, zip ties, string, hot glue and beveled faucet washers. The challenge will be held in Lundholm Gymnasium along with dozens of other STEM activities and booths for the public to enjoy.

Student uses scissors while making mousetrap car.

Claes Thelemarck, field specialist for UNH Extension, works to engage youth, informal educators and 4-H volunteers in STEM learning. He has found that mousetrap cars are an accessible way for students to engage in inquiry-based learning — a model that encourages asking lots of questions. “We’re all scientists before anything else. We explore the world through experimentation. Curiosity is innate,” he says.

“As an educator, I find and create opportunities that help guide this exploration. After the mousetrap cars are built we then look at them and investigate to see how we can make them faster. There’s experimentation involved. ‘What happens if I put this here? What if I adjust this?’”

Pairing the mousetrap car event with a football contest aims to generate excitement, understanding and appreciation for the connection between STEM areas of study and athletics. For instance, football players must maintain healthy, strong bodies by understanding the science behind nutrition and wellness; technology has advanced the game of football through video analysis and instant re-plays; engineering has modernized equipment and stadium designs; and math factors into every play on the field as players and coaches huddle around questions like, “Do we kick a field goal for three points or try a touchdown drive for six points?” 

It’s a game heavily influenced by statistics with every aspect of play formation analyzed — rushing yards, quarterback sacks, punt returns and pass interceptions all yield quantifiable data that help inform decision-making. Similarly, when students design racecars they employ the Engineering Design Process through which they identify problems, imagine solutions, create models, improve designs and then continue to ask more questions. 

UNH football player catches a football during a game

Everyone is welcome to participate in UNH STEM Day to explore these fascinating connections and to have fun! This special event provides the opportunity for youth to visit the UNH campus and imagine themselves as future Wildcats. Kaitlyn Tomasello, box office manager for UNH athletics, explains, “It doesn’t matter if a student is an athlete or not; they can look up to UNH players as role models because they’re all utilizing the same skills to reach a goal.” 

Participating youth must register for the 'Cats Got the Mouse Mousetrap Car Challenge through UNH athletics to receive their free game ticket and to order additional tickets for family members. For more information, see the event page.

INFO FOR UNH WILDCATS STEM DAY