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A Launching Pad for Minds


Science Olympiad 2015
The Bottle Rocket competition always
drew a crowd.
Science Olympiad 2015
Students from Central Bucks West competed in the Bungee Drop.
Science Olympiad 2015
Many teams were color coordinated, like
this squad from Upper Dublin.
Science Olympiad 2015
A student from Haverford Middle School propels her entry in the Elastic Launch Glider.

Hundreds of young scientists showcased their inventions and tested their science knowledge in dozens of events at the 2015 Southeastern Pennsylvania Science Olympiad Regional Competition on Wednesday, March 4. Neumann University hosted the daylong event for the second straight year.


More than 1,000 students from 59 schools spread over five counties flocked to campus despite slushy and slippery roads, the result of a sleet and ice storm the prior evening. A one-hour delay for competitive events, however, posed no problem for the next generation of Thomas Edisons and Alexander Graham Bells.


The team from Central Bucks West wore matching t-shirts with the phrase “May the d/dt (mv) be with you” etched on the back. Yes, that’s the formula for “force.” Two young men from the school entered the Bungee Drop in which youngsters had to design a bungee cord that would carry a certain mass from a specified height as close to the ground as possible – without hitting the floor.


Physics teachers Heidi Abbott and Dan Hartwell from Henderson High School videotaped each drop using a special program that exactly measures the gap between the object being dropped and the ground.


Lainie and Natalia, ninth graders at Garnet Valley High School, entered the Air Trajectory contest. Students were asked to engineer a device that would launch a ball of their choosing and hit two targets at various distances. The catch is that the teams didn’t know the distances to the targets until the competition began, so they had to calibrate their devices to hit a variety distances before the competition. Lainie and Natalia nailed the target that was seven meters away, landing their ball inches from the center.


The most popular event seemed to be Bottle Rocket, held in St. John Neumann Circle. In addition to the competitors, there was always a crowd of onlookers gathered nearby. Students had to design a bottle rocket (plastic bottles, of course) which, powered only by water and air pressure, could stay in the air as long as possible. Most designs included long, thin bodies and fins on the base to slow each rocket’s descent.


Early in the Olympiad, two middle school students were walking near the circle when a rocket careened close to 100 feet in the air, veered sharply to the right and floated gently to earth. The students’ jaws dropped before they turned to each other and, in tandem, yelled, “Awesome!”


Other contests challenged students from Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties as they competed for medals in two age groups (grades 6-9 and grades 9-12) and for a place in the state competition at Juniata College on April 25. Elastic Launch Glider, Robo-Cross, Disease Detectives, and Shock Value were just a few of the competitive events.


Launched in 1985, Science Olympiad is now one of the premiere science competitions in the nation, involving 7,000 teams in 50 states. The organization’s ever-changing collection of events challenges students, teaches them about career choices, and exposes them to practicing scientists.



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