Despite the drizzle, hundreds of middle school and high school students from throughout northern New Jersey roamed the NJIT campus Jan. 12 in pursuit of scientific victory. As participants in the 2018 New Jersey Regional Science Olympiad, coordinated by the university’s Center for Pre-College Programs, they were visiting NJIT to engage in a variety of hands-on, competitive activities designed to teach them about and nurture their interest in STEM.
NJIT has hosted and co-sponsored the Science Olympiad since 2007 and this year welcomed 41 student teams, challenging them in areas ranging from ecology to optics to thermodynamics. The teams were coached by their own science teachers, and supervised during competition by NJIT professors and volunteers as well as company representatives from UPS, CH2M, Stryker, Northman Grumman Corp. and Merck.
At times nerve-wracking and brain stumping, the Science Olympiad overall provided opportunities for fun and fellowship. Here’s a look at some of the day’s events.
In NJIT’s Campus Center Gallery, teams waited expectantly to take part in the Science Olympiad’s Mousetrap Vehicle and Battery Buggy events. For the former (top), competitors used a vehicle they had designed and built to push a plastic cup along the floor. Every vehicle incorporated one or two snap mousetraps as the sole means of propulsion, and every team got two attempts over eight minutes to get as close as possible to the finish line, located 3 meters from the starting point. Meanwhile, on the other side of the gallery (bottom), Battery Buggy participants propelled their homebuilt electric vehicles toward a target several yards away.
The Towers event, held in the Zoom Fleischer Athletic Center, tasked teams with building a wooden tower capable of achieving high structural efficiency. Each tower had a bucket suspended from its top by a chain, and while one team member shoveled sand into the bucket over a six-minute period, the other held the bucket steady. The event involved testing both the weight of the tower as well as the load of sand it was able to support. These students fared quite well, as their tower withstood its load and never collapsed.
Lollipops played an integral role in the Experimental Design event in Room 204 of Tiernan Hall, where students calculated the time it took for the candy to dissolve in a beaker of water. Each team periodically removed its lollipop from its beaker to measure the candy’s radius, and then huddled over paperwork to record data. The students also used equations to ultimately determine the rate at which their lollipop dissolved.
Down in the basement of the Campus Center, teams tinkered with their homebuilt roller coasters, adjusting tracks to increase the gravitational potential energy that would propel their “vehicle” (in this case, a spherical object) from the top to the bottom of the coaster. No magnets, electronic devices or funnels, which could expedite the vehicle’s journey to the finish line, were allowed. Each team was given eight minutes for practice, modification and two scorable 35-second runs. Although the event’s parameters were the same for all the teams, the roller coasters themselves differed in their construction materials — from cardboard tubes and duct tape, to popsicle sticks and gold paint as evidenced in this Trojan Horse-themed coaster.
The Science Olympiad culminated with an award ceremony in the Campus Center Ballroom that pulsated with noise, excitement and anticipation, as the large crowd waited to hear the competition's results. Medals were awarded to the highest-scoring middle school and high school teams for each event. Trophies then were given to the six overall top-scoring middle and high schools, which will go on to compete in the statewide Science Olympiad. Placing first, second and third among the middle schools were Montgomery Upper, Hammarskjold and Tenakill, respectively. The high school winners were Livingston for first, Bergen County Academies for second and Union County Vocational-Technical for third.