By Ashley Mackin
A group of 20 Muirlands Middle School students are shining their medals following the recent San Diego Regional Science Olympiad competition. There were 23 events in the Olympiad and Muirlands’ two teams of 10 participated in 12, earning medals in six and second place in two.
“The Science Olympiad is the most respected and recognized scientific competition in the country,” said parent volunteer and team captain Laura Jackson. “The regional chapter here in San Diego is the largest in the country. The second largest is in Los Angeles.”
San Diego Science Olympiad Regional Director, Liz Jablecki of La Jolla, said the purpose of the competition “is to encourage students to further develop their interests in science and engineering ... with an opportunity to explore topics in depth, in a way they might not be able to do in school.”
In 1987, Jablecki started a Science Olympiad team at La Jolla High School. In 1989, it won the state competition and advanced to the national level where it placed fifth. A few years later, La Jolla High School won the national competition three years in a row.
There are events in the following categories: Life, Personal and Social Science; Earth and Space Science; Physical Science and Chemistry; Technology and Engineering; and Inquiry and Nature of Science.
During the rotor egg drop, for example (Inquiry and Nature of Science category) a team constructs a device that uses one or more helicopter rotors to safely transport a raw chicken egg from a specified height to the floor.
“The students involved are learning college-level material at the middle school-level, so they need to commit time in advance to preparing,” Jackson said. “They spent about an hour a week and some time on weekends working on these projects — especially the building categories because they need to build models in a garage or a workshop to find the best one to submit. It’s a huge time commitment for them.”
Muirlands Middle School participated in the Science Olympiads years ago, but participation tapered off and it ended. Last year, Jackson — an electrical engineer and Muirlands parent — brought it back and garnered participants.
“La Jolla is a community that has a strong reputation for science; public schools in La Jolla are very science-oriented,” she said. “I’ve always been an advocate for science and math education for kids, so I wanted to engage them with a hands-on experience.”
Jablecki added “Our nation needs scientists and engineers! We are constantly barraged with information that the United States is behind other countries in science and engineering.”
Jackson said that over the years, many students discovered their life’s passion at the Olympiad. “I don’t think any student would have thought to become an entomologist before participating in that event,” she said. “Many others have become engineers and they may not have found these careers without the Olympiad.”
To take the program to the next level, Jackson said the team could use volunteer coaches (who do not need to be parents of Muirlands students), journals, research books, and materials for building test projects and monetary donations for other needed items.