A team of Carson Middle School science whiz kids recently took third overall in a statewide competition testing skills from robot building to ecology.
No, this isn't your typical science fare.
The Science Olympiad, a national nonprofit that hosts regional, statewide and a national competition to "promote and improve student interest in science," was hosted in Las Vegas the first week of March for Nevada students.
Some 15 teams competed and Carson sixth through ninth graders said the field was a good one.
"I think, this being my first year that we did all right," said Rachel Jones, 12, a sixth grader who said she wants to be a singer but learning science helps. "One of the competitions was 'Metric Mastery' and I think it's good to learn the (metric) system.
"A lot of what we learned was stuff you use every day - no matter what you want to do."
Carson Middle School science teacher Mary Stanley doubles as the team's coach. Fourteen of her middle school students stepped up to the task to practice for the competition at least twice a week after school and again, on their own time, at home.
But the hard work paid off, in more ways than one, students said.
"I think it's one of those things where you put in the hours but you can tell you're learning about all kinds of things that are applicable," said seventh grader Sashank Kandhadai, 12, who with his best friend, Mohamad Sayafi, took fourth place in the competition's tower building discipline.
Both Sashank and Mohamad listed the guidelines of building a tower that could hold 15 kilograms, explaining the technology behind it with the composure of seasoned engineers.
"It sounds complicated," Mohamad said. "But really, it's simple. Once you get the hang of it."
Indeed, Mohamad's sentiment was echoed throughout the competition as students said traveling to Las Vegas and feeling the "rush" of having to square off against their peers added extra incentive.
"My parents both work in the medical profession," said seventh grader Ethan Spence, 13, who noted he was constantly being quizzed at home prior to his entry in the "Disease Detectives" portion of the competition.
"We were given a list of diseases in certain regions and we had to track the disease. We had to study all the symptoms of the disease. We had to fill in graphs with information on the disease ... and, finally we had to know definitions of words like 'epidemic' and 'pandemic'... it was a lot of disease."
When asked if cramming for the competition made him more likely to follow in his parents' footsteps into the medical profession, Ethan paused and looked at the ground.
"To tell you the truth, it's nice to take a break from it for a bit," he said with a smile. "But it was also nice to get quizzed by my parents. That I really appreciate."
It was a family affair for multiple participants. Siblings Ben Drozdoff, a 13-year-old eighth grader and his sister, Alex, 11, who competed for the first time as a sixth grader, said pairing up for the "Scrambler" competition was one of the best things they'd done together.
"We had to build a car that had an egg mounted at the front," Ben said. "It had to travel 9 meters on the day of competition. At the end of 9 meters was a wall. You had to get the egg as close to the wall as you could - without it breaking."
Alex said their egg actually touched the wall before the car came to a stop - 1 centimeter from its mark.
"We practiced a lot, but I think we got lucky that day too," she said.
Luck, instructor Stanley said, had nothing to do with it.
"Don't let them fool you," she said. "All of them worked hard, studied hard for five months. It's an individual and a team effort."
While some students, like 13-year-old seventh grader Aishwarya Krishnamoorthy, who said she wants to eventually be an engineer and attend M.I.T., are using the competition as "a good foundation in science - and it looks pretty good on a college application," others, like sixth grader Joel Hines, 12, said the learning part was good, but the competition itself was different than he expected.
"It was great being in Vegas," he said. "But it's really not a big deal. We just all went and did what we were supposed to do.
"I was a little surprised we got to go to Vegas. I guess the competition itself was a lot of fun, but a lot of the time we sat around and watched TV."
"And went to Claim Jumper for dinner," Rachel said.
"And celebrated Mohamad's birthday," Sashank said.
"And we played (cards) after competition," said sixth grader Noah Teixeira.
"Yeah, I guess we learned a lot, but it was also a lot of fun," said eighth grader Dillion Winkelman, 13.
"I think this year's my last year competing - but you study this stuff and it appears in class, and you think - 'this is cool, I know this.'"
• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.