More than 2,000 young scientists to invade campus

12:10:00 AM CDT - Thursday, May 03, 2007

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

More than 2,000 young scientists from middle and high schools all across the United States will be "Soaring into Science" when they hit the WSU campus May 17-19 for the National Science Olympiad competition.

Most of the teams representing Kansas, which qualified at the state competition held in early April at WSU, won't have far to travel. Three out of the four teams are from the Wichita area.

Students at Science Olympiad
Photo by David Dinell
Andrew Nguyen, left, and Brandon Nguyen, both of All Saints Catholic School, work on building a tower during the Kansas Science Olympiad April 4. Brenda Gile-Laflin of the College of Engineering observes at eye level in the background. All Saintís is one of two Kansas middle schools competing in the upcoming National Science Olympiad.
Alan Oberley, the chemistry teacher at Kapaun Mt. Carmel whose team is one of the two qualifying Kansas high schools, thinks that will be an advantage.

For each of the past four years, 15 of his students have represented Kansas, traveling to Ohio State University, Juniata College in Pennsylvania, the University of Illinois and Indiana University.

Going to a competition so close to home has its benefits, not just logistically, but competition-wise, he said.

"In a way there's more excitement because we have a home-field advantage," Oberley said.  "We're in our comfort zone since we've competed here for years. This year the students are more focused on the competition because they don't have a trip."

Competing on home turf also means additional students, teachers and parents from the east-side Catholic high school can come to cheer on their team.

Anyone who's been to the state competition at WSU will find the national tournament exciting, say organizers.

"Spectators to the state Science Olympiad tournament are often amazed at the accomplishments of our students here in Kansas," said Greg Novacek, the Fairmount Center for Science and Mathematics director and the state olympiad organizer.  "Having the best Science Olympiad teams from across the country takes the competition to the next level."

"Science Olympiad demonstrates that when learning is fun, student's line up to get involved," said WSU's National Science Olympiad organizer, Harry Gregory. "Many students are motivated to learn more than the teacher in some of the subjects," said the former science teacher.

Because of Wichita's well-known aircraft industry, as well as WSU's nationally recognized National Institute for Aviation Research, organizers at WSU decided a "Soaring into Science" theme was ideal for the competition.

Having a national science tournament here has advantages for WSU, too. For a couple of days, the university gets to show off its science and research facilities to around 2,000 students.

In total, more than 4,000 students, coaches, parents and other spectators are expected during the course of the National Science Olympiad.

The masses will start arriving on campus Wednesday, May 16, and will have opportunities to visit area and WSU attractions.

On Friday, May 18, several WSU departments will offer tours and demonstrations, including watching "explosive" chemistry and glassblowing in McKinley Hall, eating ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, and experiencing WSU's virtual reality lab.

Even Oberley's Kapaun Mt. Carmel team plans to take in those experiences. "The kids will get to see how Wichita State compares to Indiana University," he noted. 

Prior hosts have also taken advantage of the event to highlight learning and research facilities and opportunities for potential college students.

The event is also an opportunity to showcase a successful graduate from WSU. Matt Stinemetze, a 1998 graduate with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering, will be the keynote speaker during the opening ceremony at Koch Arena Friday evening, May 18.

Stinemetze is working for one of the most exciting aero-tech companies, Scaled Composites. He was part of the company's team that launched the first private spacecraft into suborbital altitude.

The actual competitions begin at 7 a.m. Saturday, May 19. Among the more than 40 events, students will compete in such events as launching gliders from a balloon, building a 10-gram tower capable of holding 15 kilograms and making contraptions that use simple machines to do a task.

Several of the events are open to the public.

The awards ceremonies for the middle and high school divisions will begin at 6:30 p.m. and run through 10:30 p.m. May 19 in Koch Arena.

The Kansas teams are All Saint's Catholic School from Wichita and California Trail Jr. High School in Olathe in the middle school division, and Kapaun Mt. Carmel and Wichita Collegiate Upper School in the high school division.

A full schedule of events is available at http://webs.wichita.edu/nso/.

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