Google, Georgia Tech help inspire science students with Gravity Games in Douglasville

2:35 p.m Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 Education
Steve Schaefer
Race official Russell Bonds gives Meggen Greene last-minute instructions before she starts her trial run during the Gravity Games on Saturday, Nov. 4 in downtown Douglasville. The event is a gravity-only car race competition presented by Google, Georgia Tech and the city of Douglasville. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

It happened suddenly, and with a bang: The gate dropped, and Kaylah Singleton was off, rolling silently down Church Street in downtown Douglasville.

The junior at the city’s New Manchester High School was guiding a soap box derby-style car that her team entered into the city’s fourth annual Gravity Games. The contest for Georgia students is intended to lure more kids into science and engineering.

“I plan on going to college for science, so I thought why not get into it,” Kaylah said, after finishing her run down the 600-foot-long descent from Courthouse Square West on Saturday morning. She and her six teammates dedicated their “super stock” car to science teacher Gassette Johnson, who died this fall after recruiting several of the members.

The event is sponsored by Douglasville, Georgia Tech and Google, which operates a data center in nearby Lithia Springs. Facility manager Russell Bonds said he and his co-workers established it to expose youths to technical careers.

“This is a great way for kids to have fun and be introduced to science in a way that’s not intimidating,” Bonds said, adding that he and his colleagues had each had some similar experience that shaped their lives. “There was some point as a young person that we were exposed to science or math and realized that we loved it.”

The games are open to anyone ages 8 to 17. Most of the more than 55 entrants were from Douglas County though a handful of teams came from Atlanta and Clayton and DeKalb counties. The games are unaffiliated with American Soap Box Derby. The Gravity Games have looser rules on vehicle modifications, with one division allowing cars built from scratch instead of the standard soap box kit cars like the one Kaylah was driving. There’s also an autonomous vehicle division.

Steve Schaefer / Special to the AJC
Jackson Conner heads down the hill driving a car sponsored by the Douglas County Sheriff's Department during the Georgia Gravity Games  on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. The event is designed to encourage interest among students in science, and the exhibits included a “science street” tent with drones and little robots.  

Exhibits included a “science street” tent, with drones and little robots, inflatable pig lungs and a sleek red gravity car, the fastest ever, clocked at 101.98 mph. (Bonds said the kids in his contest typically peak at 29 mph.)

Steve Schaefer / Special to the AJC
A car heads for the finish line during the Gravity Games on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in downtown Douglasville. 

Kamryn Umphrey, 10, had worried about crashing, but safely delivered his car to the bottom of the hill for Dorsett Shoals Elementary School in Douglasville. He dreams of flying airplanes — his grandfather is an aerospace engineer — and wrote an essay to get onto the team after learning about it at a school event. He wrote about an aviation camp he’d attended and how participating in the games would help him meet people.

His dad, Trey Ivey, said the experience will “open it up” for Kamryn’s future. “I think it’s awesome,” he said.

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