Thirteen-year-old Jameson Loeffler usually doesn't get stressed out during Illinois Science Olympiad events, but Saturday was a different story.
The rotor egg drop he built -- a spinning device that gets dropped from high up in the air with the goal of not breaking an egg inside -- was larger than allowed at the Grayslake Regional Science Olympiad held at College of Lake County.
Jameson, an eighth grader at Grayslake Middle School, first scrambled to try to modify the contraption, then gave up and decided to use an extra device he had brought. "This is the only time I was a little stressed," he said.
Altogether, about 900 students from 13 high schools and 16 middle schools, mostly from the Northwest suburbs, competed Saturday for spots in the state competition to be held in April at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said Mary Edly-Allen, assistant regional director for ISO.
The competition's 23 events fell into two categories, academic "pen and paper" events -- such as astronomy and rocks and minerals -- and hands-on events, such as wheeled vehicles and helicopters. About 40 percent of teams qualify for state, she said.
ISO is a great activity for all different types of kids, Edly-Allen said.
"They get to explore areas that they normally don't in high school -- they go more in-depth," she said. "The kids that have passions in certain areas; they can really hone in on it."
Julie Kregel, a junior at Cary-Grove High School, agreed.
"I just started this year. All my friends are into it, and I always liked science," she said. "I find all the topics interesting, and I actually like learning about it."
Julie competed in "designer genes," about DNA and sequencing, while her classmate Jason Proctor competed in experimental design, where he came up with a way to show how friction affects the distance a toy car rolls.
The best part is hanging out with friends on the team, Jason said. "It's really fun, even though you have to get up early."
Paul Pierce of Grayslake wore two hats, as a coach for Grayslake Middle School and as a parent alongside his son Aaron, 17, a student at Grayslake North High School.
Aaron's older brother, Derek, now in college, also competed in Science Olympiad, Paul Pierce said.
"I just kept doing it and over the years and I gained enough knowledge of it (to coach)," he said. "It's an activity for the kids to learn quite a bit on different subjects."
Participating in Science Olympiad takes some commitment, but not so much that you don't have time for anything else, said friends Dominic Hoijer and Alex Lundgren, both juniors at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.
"It's a decent amount of time, but not ridiculous," Alex said, adding band takes more time. "It allows some freedom."