Senior Joe Sernett carefully carries his small model car over to the starting line, surveying the other competitors’ models as he walks. The contraption he’s holding consists of a small mousetrap with four CDs glued to it, filling the role of wheels. Two inflated balloons are taped on the end of the trap to provide power so the machine can start moving.
Not completely confident in his mousetrap car, Sernett slowly places it on the starting line. He looks down the line to see about 20 others cars that are all different except for the fact that they are each powered by mousetrap, a requirement in the race.
Sernett is a member of the East’s Science Olympiad Club, sponsored by physics teacher Mary Ward. In Science Olympiad, students compete in competitions dealing with a wide variety of science-related topics. The club’s purpose is to increase student’s proficiency in science and promote team work in events.
At the competitions, members compete in different areas of science, ranging from chemistry to geology to engineering. Students participating in the competition get to pick what topic they compete in, but there is no preparation. The details of the competitions are found out right before they start, so competitors must rely on their own knowledge to solve the problems they are presented with. The one exception to this is the building category, in which students prepare something before the competition that is then tested once the events start.
“It’s kind of like a personalized experience based on what you’re interested in,” Science Olympiad president Meagan Dexter said.
Many students enjoy Science Olympiad because of the fact that it doesn’t just include the things that are covered in school.
“In science class, we don’t study bird calls or get to build many things,” Ward said. “Doing these things in Science Olympiad competitions lets students sort of broaden their interests.”
As Sernett’s mousetrap car race was about to start, the atmosphere was surprisingly carefree. As he heard the words “GO!” he pulled the strings releasing the air from the balloons, and watched as his mousetrap car was propelled forward by the power of the balloons. Although his car came in in the middle of the pack, Sernett wasn’t disappointed.
“I like [Science Olympiad] because it’s fun and interesting,” Sernett said. “It makes you be creative and think on your toes.”
Although a love of science is an incentive for some to sign up, there are many that sign up because of the extra credit that chemistry teachers offer for participating in it. Participation in terms of number of people from last year to this year has skyrocketed, from about three regular members last year to about eight this year.
“I think the AP chem classes got a lot more involved in terms of coming to the meetings,” Dexter said.
This is partially due to the unusually high number of students enrolled in Chemistry II this year, almost four times as many as years past.
On Feb. 26, the club participated in Regionals, the biggest competition of the season. This meet determines which teams qualify for state, and schools from all over the Kansas City area participate. The top six teams get to participate in state. East managed to send enough people to the meet to cover all 20 events, but the lack of depth and experience proved to be the Lancer’s weaknesses, and they ended up with a ninth place finish
However, Dexter is optimistic about the future of Science Olympiad after seeing the results from the regional competition.
“For basically everyone’s first year on the team, we did awesome,” Dexter said. “It was better than I expected for sure.”
As a senior, Dexter knows that next year the Science Olympiad program will be in new hands. Even though she will be gone, she is confident that the program will continue to prosper and gain new students.
“You kind of expect people to come the first time either because it’s science that interests them or it’s extra credit,” Dexter said, “but it seems that people return because it’s fun.”
Sophomore Matthew Williamson is one of the few sophomores that competed this year, and expects to continue participating in Science Olympiad in the future. He likes the program not only because it’s fun, but because it helps participants work on things like problem solving and thinking outside the box.
“In some events, I’ve learned to have to improvise with what I have,” Williamson said. “It gives you something you’re not used to or prepared for, and you have to mess around with it to get a good result.”
Williamson walked out of the regional Science Olympiad competition with three medals, having placed in more than half of his five events. For him and many others, the competition shed light on his creative side and showed him what he was capable of. This aspect of the program is almost more important than the actual science, according to Ward.
“The program is really meant to show students what they can do with science and what they are capable of when they put their mind to it,” Ward said. “So far, we have had some pretty impressive results.”