Noun Sokhom, a grade 10 student at Pannasastra International School (PISI), was Cambodia’s only representative at the annual international Water Rocket Competition, held in Australia last year.
The competition is sponsored by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which pays for one student from every country in the Asia-Pacific region to compete.
Water rockets were introduced to Cambodia in 2006 as one of many Japanese technologies that could be used as a science-education tool, but for most Cambodian students they are still unfamiliar objects.
Except, that is, for students at PISI and the National Institute of Education, who have been learning about these devices since 2008.
Noun Sokhom had to compete with other students at PISI for an opportunity to participate in the international competition. He was selected after surprising teachers with his ability to shoot water rockets safely and accurately towards a target.
Even though they can be made from recycled bottles and plastics, Noun Sokhom, 15, says it’s not an easy task to build a water rocket accurate enough to win a competition.
“To hit the designated target perfectly, I have to carefully calculate my rocket’s weight and speed, the distance that needs to be travelled, and the power and direction of the wind,” Noun Sokhom explains.
Although he did not win the competition in Australia, Noun Sokhom managed to take home a certificate and some prizes after ranking sixth out of 32 candidates from 13 countries. Despite not winning, he said he was satisfied with what he got out of the event.
“I learned lots of new things at the knowledge-sharing workshops attended by competitors from various countries,” said Noun Sokhom, who added that Cambodian students needed to improve in order catch up with their international peers.
During the workshops, Noun Sokhom also had the chance to conduct experiments in a space research laboratory, communicate with astronauts via Mission Control, and even participate in an advanced water-rocket tutorial with a JAXA helicopter engineer and water-rocket expert.
Noun Sokhom plans to compete in PSIS’s upcoming water rocket competition to select a student to send to next year’s competition in Singapore.
This qualifying competition will be held on July 9.
Mam Sarith, an official researcher at the Institute of Science and Technology, as well as head of Natural Sciences at PSIS, said the Ministry of Education should implement a water-rocket course for high schools nationwide, so students could apply theories they learn in physics, chemistry, and science classes.
As for the future, Noun Sokhom says: “I will take up my family business, even though I like science.”