Budding scientists display prowess during Arlington Heights Science Olympiad

  • Tyler Kaczmarski, 14, of Lake Villa, consults with a coach about how to improve his glider during Saturday's Science Olympiad at South Middle School in Arlington Heights.

      Tyler Kaczmarski, 14, of Lake Villa, consults with a coach about how to improve his glider during Saturday's Science Olympiad at South Middle School in Arlington Heights. Barbara Vitello | Staff Photographer

  • Robert Hansell, 12, and Lola Adebiyi, 13, of North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka await the results of their "scrambler" test Saturday during the Science Olympiad at South Middle School in Arlington Heights.

      Robert Hansell, 12, and Lola Adebiyi, 13, of North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka await the results of their "scrambler" test Saturday during the Science Olympiad at South Middle School in Arlington Heights. Barbara Vitello | Staff Photographer

  • The device Lola Adebiyi and Robert Hansell designed and built for the South Middle School Science Olympiad Invitational Saturday in Arlington Heights may earn them a medal.

      The device Lola Adebiyi and Robert Hansell designed and built for the South Middle School Science Olympiad Invitational Saturday in Arlington Heights may earn them a medal. Barbara Vitello | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/14/2017 6:09 PM

Not all the inventions entered in the annual Science Olympiad invitational at South Middle School in Arlington Heights looked pretty.

But when it comes to these contraptions -- everything from Rube Goldberg-inspired machines and mini-vehicles to gliders and rockets -- looks don't matter. Performance does.

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The devices on display Saturday were made out of balsa wood, plastic and PVC pipe and more whimsical materials like compact discs, a turquoise gym shoe and the head of a Barbie doll. Conjured by teens and tweens under the watchful eyes of adult volunteers, the devices took months to design and build. Unfortunately, not all performed as their young designers and engineers expected.

The glider Tyler Kaczmarski, 14, and Aiden Schueler, 13, entered in the "Wright Stuff" competition, stayed aloft only a few seconds, not enough to earn the Grayslake Middle School students a medal. This time.

"I say we rebuild," said Kaczmarski of Lake Villa. Schueler of Grayslake disagreed, saying the glider needed only a bit of tweaking.

That kind of can-do spirit is typical of the 450 middle school students participating in the Olympiad, consisting of 23 events, including written tests as well as design-and-build competitions in disciplines ranging from anatomy to food science, experimental design and hovercraft. There's even one called "scrambler," which requires students to construct a device that can transport an egg quickly toward a barrier, stopping as close as possible without breaking the egg.

Lola Adebiyi, 13, and Robert Hansell, 12 of North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka appeared to have a winning "scrambler."

The optimistic Adebiyi, of Skokie, thinks they have a shot at winning the state competition. Hansell, of Winnetka, is more cautious.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We have to continue working hard to develop the design and technology," he said. "We'll keep adjusting until it's at its best."

"I believe the sky's the limit," said Adebiyi. "But just because it's good right now doesn't mean it can't get better."

Whether they succeed or fail, whether they pursue careers in science and engineering or not, students will use the skills they develop, said South science teacher and Olympiad coach Kim Dyer.

"They learn teamwork and collaboration. They learn persistence and how to adjust and rebuild. They learn hard work pays off."

And, said Dyer, collaborating with others who share their interests gives them a sense of belonging.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Most spend between six and 10 hours a week after school and on weekends preparing.

That kind of commitment might put some would-be scientists off. But at Daniel Wright Junior High School in Lincolnshire, there were thrice the number of applicants as spaces on the team, which last year won the national championship, said Nan Buckardt, a volunteer coach.

"There aren't many outlets for kids who love science," she said.

Mechanical engineer Andy Anderson of Palatine has been a South Science Olympiad volunteer coach for 22 years. "My job is to show them what's possible and help them with power tools," Anderson said.

Retired science teacher Katie Kaufman, South's head Science Olympiad coach for 20 years and now a volunteer, says kids can get discouraged when their devices fail.

"But it's not the end of the world and they get a chance to redeem themselves," she said. "It's a good life lesson."

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