Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 18, 2014

Russell High School wins State Science Olympiad

Disappointment turns to jubilation as scoring error found and corrected

Mike James
The Independent

RUSSELL — The long ride home from Bowling Green was tinged with disappointment for Russell High School students who believed they’d finished as also-rans in the state Science Olympiad last weekend.

But when coach Kirk Barnett got the call Monday evening that a scoring error had been corrected and the Russell team had won the championship, the atmosphere was instantly electric.

It was too late to make the announcement at school, but Barnett called his assistant coaches and the school’s media specialist, Robin Clay, broadcast the news on Twitter.

“She got 38 retweets in two minutes,” Barnett said. Team members had an impromptu get-together that evening and the entire school was jubilant the next day.

Winning first place in the Science Olympiad means outperforming science whizzes from schools across the state.

Participants compete in 23 events ranging from building helicopters to studying the solar system. The events draw competitors deeper into the scientific disciplines than they probably ever have been before, and demand more from them than they have known in their classrooms.

Devon Virgin, a senior, and his teammate, sophomore Ali Wilt, worked on a forensics project that required them to identify various powders. The exercise simulates the work of crime-lab scientists who use chemistry and physics to aid them in solving crimes.

“It definitely pushes me to learn more in the classroom, and it’s more enjoyable when it’s hands-on,” Wilt said.

The demands are stiff, however, according to Virgin. During out-of-town competition trips, for instance, when they by rights should be sneaking down to the hotel pool, team members cluster in their rooms for two- or three-hour study sessions.

Virgin said he sometimes studies more for the olympiad than he does his regular homework.

Sophomore Allison Aldrich competed in an engineering event, building a device called a booomilever. It’s a machine she is very familiar with, because she has been building similar devices since she was in sixth grade.

The boomilever is essentially a cantilever, which is a load-carrying beam anchored only at one end.

The event is scored based on weight and strength — the lighter the weight and the more weight it will bear, the higher the score.

Aldrich built hers with wispy strips of balsa secured by super glue; it weighs about nine grams and is capable of bearing more than 30 pounds.

Having made so many, Aldrich designed hers based on experience and intuition rather than complex mathematical calculations.

The nature of her competition requires building and rebuilding, because each structure can be used only once. Loaded to their utmost capacity, the devices invariably begin to crack and thus are weakened and made useless for further competition.

For the national competition, Aldrich plans to build several for practice and then incorporate the best features in one she will reserve for the big day.

The high school team also has a stellar record in the state olympiad, having won eight championships since 1998, Barnett said. Entomology was its strongest event this year and it placed first, second or third in every event, he said.

The team will compete in the national Science Olympiad May 17 in Orlando, Fla.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.