Stafford High School senior Justin Kelly used a curious collection of objects to make his science competition entry last weekend: PVC pipe, duct tape, Styrofoam, a No. 2 pencil, half a sock.
Despite its patchwork of parts, the contraption – an egg transporter that represents a lesson in physics – performed well in the “Scrambler” category, which tests devices designed to carry an egg to a finish line without cracking.
The challenge was part of a Virginia Science Olympiad (VASO) competition hosted by the University of Mary Washington on Saturday, Feb. 25. The last of this year’s three regional contests, it brought hundreds of fifth- through 12th-grade science enthusiasts to campus to test their STEM skills in biology and chemistry, anatomy and meteorology, forensics and forestry, and far beyond.
“UMW’s role as host gives students a glimpse of what opportunities are out there in terms of college,” said Senior Lecturer of Biology Michael Stebar, who served as onsite coordinator. “They’re in a physics lab surrounded by a myriad of equipment and instruments. They’re in a biology lab surrounded by microscopes and preserved organisms.”
The event had young scientists – 63 teams from 32 schools – testing bridges made of balsa wood, clocks that measured time with water and sand, and a host of homemade gadgets and gizmos designed to meet challenges under a constrict of rules. The top performers will be eligible to compete at the state level later this month in Charlottesville.
Seungwoo Oh and partner James Pijai, both 10, drew from their classroom lessons in energy transformation at Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean to enter a towering track made of paper and cardboard in the “Roller Coaster” contest. The balls they rolled down its course missed their 40-second travel-time mark, but the coaster followed the rules – two gaps, one loop, no magnets or springs – making it a “high-scoring device,” said Event Supervisor Harry Chernoff.
Throughout the day, he and a slew of volunteers checked entries for parameter violations, missing log data and other missteps, collecting measurements with rulers and timers, and doling out scores.
“Sometimes the perception of science in the classroom can make it seem like a very individual endeavor,” said VASO State Director Emily Owens. “The Science Olympiad allows collaboration with partners in events that might be more likely to pique students’ interests.”
Sixth-graders Malika Burkhanova and Nargiza Muzaffar, from Pinnacle Academy in Chantilly, paired up to design a “piano” – a wooden case filled with steel bars of varying sizes to create different tones. For their entry in the “Sounds of Music” category, which tests contestants’ knowledge on the physics of sound, they studied the rules and objectives, did some research on YouTube and learned a few lessons along the way.
“Science explains everything in the world, basically,” Malika said. “It’s so interesting.”
Schools that participated in the VASO event at the University of Mary Washington on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023 include: Kent Gardens Elementary School, Frost Middle School, Forestville Elementary School, J. Michael Lunsford Middle School, Pinnacle Academy, Freedom High School, Broad Run High School, Robinson Secondary School, Stafford Senior High School, Potomac Falls High School, Farmwell Station Middle School, Belmont Ridge Middle School, Lemon Road Elementary School, River Bend Middle School, Seneca Ridge Middle School, Greenbriar West Elementary School, Thomas Edison High School, Riverside High School, Chantilly High School, Justice High School, Woodberry Forest School, Lake Braddock High School, Dominion Christian Middle School, Cooper Middle School, BASIS Independent, Stone Hill Middle School, Eagle Ridge Middle School, West Springfield High School, Fairfax High School, Centreville High School, Alexandria City High School. Visit the VASO website for a video congratulating last weekend’s winners.