Budding scientists take flight at Science Olympiad Invitational

  A model airplane belonging to Hawthorn Middle School North students Aarnav Garg and Jayesh Patil had a successful flight Saturday during the Illinois Science Olympiad Kild-Mas Invitational at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard/

Inside the Thomas Middle School gym, the balsa wood plane built by Hawthorn Middle School North students Jayesh Patil and Aarnav Garg for Saturday’s Illinois Science Olympiad Kild-Mas Invitational took off smoothly.

Circling lazily, the plane began to descend. In the process, it expanded its flight path beyond the parameters of the competition area, forcing observers and fellow competitors to scramble out of the way lest they hinder its successful flight which concluded with a soft landing that satisfied the Science Olympiad veterans.

  Observers Stefanie Ebner, left, and Cindy Do of Chicago, avoid contact with Aarnav Garg and Jayesh Patil’s model airplane during its descent Saturday at the Illinois Science Olympiad Kild-Mas invitational at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard/

Aarnav always has loved science. The Vernon Hills 14-year-old says the invitational, in which 58 teams numbering 870 students from 26 Chicago-area middle schools and one from Wisconsin competed, affords participants “an experience nothing else can.”

The competition also enables contestants like him and Jayesh, 13, to prepare for regionals, which take place next month at community colleges including Lake County, Harper, Oakton, McHenry and others.

Named after the Kildeer-Countryside School District 96 and Thomas Middle School, Saturday’s competition marked the second year the Arlington Heights school has hosted the invitational in which youngsters compete in 23 written and design-and-build events in subjects including: anatomy and physiology, ecology, flight, forestry, meteorology, optics, roller coaster, tower and wheeled trajectory among others.

  Naomi Spicer, left, and Julian Wynne, students at Des Plaines’ Science and Arts Academy, get their vehicle rolling during the Wheeled Trajectory event at the Science Olympiad Saturday in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard/

The goal is to introduce students to scientific disciplines not typically taught in middle school, said Illinois Science Olympiad executive board member Nicole McRee, KCSD 96 science, STEM and wellness specialist.

While competition is an important element, learning is paramount, said McRee.

Darren Persino, a science teacher at Marie Murphy School in Wilmette, presided over the crime busters event, which requires participants to perform tests on evidence to solve a mystery he devised.

As a coach, Persino hopes to “ignite a passion for science” in students, which will enable them to “become better problem solvers and learn about themselves along the way.”

  Budding scientists work to solve a “crime” Saturday during the Kild-Mas Founders Invitational’s Crime Busters competition in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard/

Retired research chemist Chuck Markos has volunteered for the event for 25 years.

The longtime model airplane enthusiast wrote a guide to designing and building the planes, posted on the National Free Flight Society website. Failing to balance the plane properly is the most common mistake young competitors make.

“If you get the airplane balanced right, it will fly,” said Markos of Deerfield.

Their first Science Olympiad, Freemont Middle School students and longtime friends Mason Monico and Liam King, both 12, teamed up for the roller coaster design and build event.

“I saw it on the list (of events) and thought it would be fun,” said Mason.

“Building a roller coaster sounded cool,” added Liam.

After their first design failed, the Round Lake youngsters tore it apart and used the base for the current version, which Mason tweaked on Friday, one day before the competition.

The boys say they’ll return next year. Their event? Flight.

  Quinn Allison, left, and Hazel Krrotser, students at Lundahl Middle School in Crystal Lake, work on their roller coaster Saturday during the Science Olympiad Kild-Mas Founders Invitational in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard/
  Jonah Lui, top, and Tejas Naidu of The Latin School in Chicago demonstrate the strength of the tower they built during Saturday’s Science Olympiad in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard/
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