Occidental College will once again host the Los Angeles Regional Science Olympiad, a rigorous K-12 science, engineering and technology competition on Saturday, February 25. Students from 131 private and public elementary, middle and high schools will compete in astronomy, chemistry, engineering and other subjects.
Students prepare for the tournament for months. Akin to an academic track meet, the Science Olympiad has about 60 events in three divisions: elementary, middle and high school. Approximately 2,000 local students grouped into 15-person teams will compete in events that require not just knowledge, but critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They include designing a mousetrap, analyzing satellite images and inventing and playing a musical instrument.
About 150 Occidental and Caltech science and engineering professors and students, naturalists from the Los Angeles County Outdoor Science School and other local science educators will judge the competition, now in its 26th year. Events will be held across campus, both in buildings such as Thorne Hall and Booth Hall, as well as on the Academic Quad and other outdoor locations. The awards ceremonies will begin at 3:30 p.m. in Occidental's Jack Kemp Stadium.
Phoebe Dea, the College's associate dean and professor of chemistry, and one of the tournament organizers, said the College is proud to host this year's Science Olympiad. "The College is a great place to learn science," she said. "Oxy students are highly successful in integrating research and classroom learning. We hope our facilities, faculty, staff and students, particularly those serving as event captains, will motivate the Olympiad participants to foster a future in the sciences."
The three winning teams from each division go on to the state tournament on April 14 at Anaheim's Canyon High School. Winners of the state competition then battle other top teams May 18-19 at the 28th annual Science Olympiad National Tournament at the University of Central Florida. Nearly 6,000 teams from 49 states compete annually in hopes of reaching the national level. Besides a trophy and bragging rights, winners also receive grants up to $2,000 for their school.
"This is much more than a science quiz. This is a chance to prepare and use what you know in a new setting," said Gary Widdison, co-director of the Los Angeles regional tournament and director of the Los Angeles County Outdoor Science Schools. "Collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication are emphasized. The best students will think on their feet."
Seven to eight schools in each division from the regional competition usually advance to the state competition, and several have reached the national level. Rosemead's Muscatel Middle School, coached by science teacher Jun Lugue '98 M'99, placed fourth in the national tournament in 2011 and 2009, and was the state champion in 2009 and 2010.
At the high school level, North Hollywood High School and Fullerton's Troy High School, which competes in the Orange County Science Olympiad, are strong contenders. North Hollywood placed second at state from 2007 through 2010, while Troy has placed first at the state competition since 1999, placed fourth at the national tournament in 2011, and won overall in 2007 and 2008.
"Science is not limited to a body of knowledge; it's a dynamic pursuit," Widdison said. "The Science Olympiad is an authentic expression of that endeavor."