The competitive side of science: the Science Olympiad |

The competitive side of science: the Science Olympiad

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Lucas Johnson, 13, studies astronomy in Mary Stanley's science classroom at Carson Middle School on Thursday. Stanley's students are competing at the Science Olympiad in Las Vegas on Saturday.

“Garbage. Contamination.”

Connor Farrell thought a moment, searching for the right science vocabulary word from the more than 200 he’d learned in the past two months.

“Pollutant,” he said before looking to his partner Lue Vang for confirmation.

As the only two eighth-graders on the Carson Middle School Science Olympiad Team, the pair said they felt they were the most qualified to take on “Science Word.”

“Science Word” is one of 23 categories that comprise the Science Olympiad, allowing students the opportunity to compete in events focusing on everything from physics and astronomy to biology and chemistry.

In “Science Word,” competitors get two hint words to determine the vocab word.

After finishing second last year, Carson Middle School is in a rebuilding year and is hoping to use this Saturday’s competition at Community College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas as a learning experience for next year’s event.

“This was supposed to be my year off, I wasn’t going to coach the team but they needed a coach,” said science teacher Mary Stanley. “The whole goal of Science Olympiad is to encourage students to excel in science, technology and engineering.”

The 12 students have only been working since January, but will compete in 20 of the 23 events in the competition.

While Vang and Farrell worked on words, several of their teammates were testing the trebeche they had built. A trebeche is a type of device that launches an object using a counterweight, similar to a catapult.

“We have been collecting data for at least a week to make sure we can get it the exact distance,” said sixth-grader Sean Johnson, 11. “I built it in about two weeks. We used the Internet to figure out how to do it.”

At the competition, Johnson and his partner, Sashank Kandhadai, will be given the exact weight of the ball and counterweight. They will determine how far the ball will travel and be judged on the accuracy of their prediction.

So far, the boys have hit 25 feet.

“We’ve learned how different counterweights effect the ball, but most of what we will actually learn will be at the competition,” Sashank said.

One of the most difficult events at the Olympiad is “Mission Possible,” which requires students to build a Rube Goldberg device to complete two tasks. This year the device must use marbles to turn a paddle wheel and use a lighter can to raise a heavier can.

“That’s the hardest event for the coach. I don’t know how to build it. It’s too complicated for me, I’m a geologist,” Stanley said.

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at or 881-1217.