At the 2003 Georgia Science Olympiad, hosted by
Emory on Saturday, April 5, not a single baking-soda-and-vinegar-and-red-food-coloring
volcano was in sight. There were, however, rubber-band-powered biplanes
circling the WoodPEC gym, rockets flying skyward outside it, and
laboratories filled with experiments designed by some of the brightest
high school students in the state.
“I think this was our most successful year in terms of putting
together 23 top-notch scientific competitions,” said chemistry
lecturer Michael McCormick, the tournament director.
More than 400 students from 27 Georgia high schools competed in
those 23 events, with each school bringing a team of 15 students
plus alternates to campus for the event. The aggregate score from
each school’s finish in each event determined the winner.
Individual events covered all of the natural sciences as well as
engineering and communications. The olympiad included “device”
events that required building something prior to or at the tournament,
“skills” events, or “knowledge” events in
various fields of science. While advance preparation was certainly
an aspect of every part of the olympiad, much of the competition
involved hands-on work, emphasizing problem solving and teamwork.
For instance in “Chemistry Lab,” competitors were judged
on their work, but instead of being handed a prepackaged experiment
to perform, they were given a broad theme—periodicity and
kinetics—and asked to design and then conduct an experiment.
“It’s all about thinking on your feet and being able
to solve problems,” said McCormick, who has been involved
with the Science Olympiad since Emory began hosting it in 1997.
Since its arrival, both the chemistry department and the Faculty
Science Council have been its sponsors.
Competitions were held in several venues. The PE Center was home
to “The Wright Stuff” rubber-band-powered airplane competition
(one of the more visually exciting “device” competitions)
and the “Boomilever,” in which wood constructions resembling
oil derricks squared off in a battle of strength and leverage (to
see which one could bear the most weight without snapping).
Outside the P.E. Center was the self-explanatory “Bottle Rocket”
event, the only competition to be held outside. Other events were
held in the Math & Science Center, Emerson Hall and Atwood Hall,
and they covered a broad range of skills and knowledge in physics,
chemistry, astronomy and many other disciplines.
“Write It/Do It” was a scientific writing event that
involved one set of team members building a project, then writing
a description of it. The project was then disassembled, and the
written material given to a second set of teammates who then had
to rebuild the original using the description as the only guideline.
McCormick compared the other olympiad events to a track meet. Each
team had specialists in certain events and because the relative
small size of each team required it, students had to compete in
more than one event.
Parkview High (Lilburn) won the title, finishing first first in
three events and second in three others. Meadowcreek (Norcross)
finished second, followed by Campbell (Smyrna), Westminster (Atlanta),
and defending champion McIntosh (Peachtree City) rounded out the
top five. Parkview had finished second at last year’s tournament.
The top two teams will represent Georgia at the national tournament
at Ohio State University in Columbus on May 10.
Meadowcreek’s exuberant reaction to its second-place finish—which
guaranteed the school a spot at nationals—was akin to winning
the Super Bowl.
“It’s really great to see kids get excited about science,”
said Sally Pete, program administrator in the Emory College Office
of Research. Pete was one of the more than 100 volunteers who helped
run the competition. They included Emory faculty members, students
from the Atlanta and Oxford campuses, as well as several members
of the community.
Science most certainly was central to each event, but the arts played
a part as well. “The Sound of Music” was a scientific
battle of the bands, with competitors building their own instruments.
There was a written part as well—participants had to take
a quiz on acoustics.
Like in most every other category, the competitors’ sophistication
varied. Plastic pipe organs on wheels mixed with water-filled wine
glasses; a wooden lyre covered with what appeared to be the hide
of a pool table traded chords with a square six-string guitar made
of a box.
Then there was a duo whose instruments of choice consisted of a
pan flute made out of PVC pipe and duct tape and a one-string guitar
(an E-string) constructed of a willow branch and a cake pan.
“Some people spend days building their instruments,”
said the pan flute player, Russell Gottschalk, a senior at Decatur’s
Lakeside High. “We took a couple hours.”
Gottschalk and his partner Daniel Soloway placed 14th in the event