By Travis Gulbrandson
Vermillion Middle School came away with third place in Division B at the 29th annual South Dakota Science Olympiad State Tournament Saturday.
This is the second year in a row the school has won that place, with Yankton Middle School and Sacred Heart Middle School earning first and second, respectively.
“The event went very well overall,” said Clark Bennett, mathematics instructor and Science Olympiad organizer. “It was very well-attended, the students were very prepared, and I think everyone had a very good time.”
Sixteen teams from two divisions across the state came to compete in events as varied as anatomy, experimental design and metric mastery, which were held in locations across the USD campus, as well as the Vermillion Armory.
While some events utilized the students’ test-taking skills, others required practical experience in designing and building.
One of these was the mousetrap vehicle event.
“You have a car that’s supposed to be powered by a mousetrap,” explained Kristen Rezac, an eighth-grader from Yankton’s Sacred Heart Middle School. “In order to do that, you take a stick and attach it to the mousetrap. There’s a string on that stick, and you wrap it around your wheel axels, and that pulls the car.”
The car is then required to move – but not exceed – a specific length.
Sacred Heart’s coach Rebecca Peterson said the school’s team participated in the event last year, as well, but that the rules had changed in the interim.
“Last year used one mousetrap, this year used two,” Peterson said.
“Last year, it had to go from six meters to 10 meters, and this year it’s eight and a half to 12, so you had to adjust the distance you go,” Rezac added. “It could go faster with two mousetraps, too, so you have to adjust the speed.”
Bennett said it is not unheard-of for changes to be made to events year to year.
“Some of the events tend to rotate in and out,” he said. “That’s all courtesy of the national office. They decide when an event should move on and when to replace it with something else, and we had some new events this year.”
This year’s primary new event was a hands-on demonstration of chromosome spreading by Sanford researchers at the USD School of Medicine.
“From what I understand, the kids who attended that – and there were quite a few – really enjoyed it,” Bennett said.
Bennett added that he hopes the participants come away with a greater appreciation of science.
“I hope they have fun and that they learn something,” he said.
Katie Hauser, a Sacred Heart Middle School eighth-grader, said her favorite part is “the educational challenge of it.”
Rezac said she enjoys the social aspects of Science Olympiad, as well.
“You learn, but it’s fun,” she said.
Prior to the closing ceremony, Peterson said she was pleased with how the entire 15-member team was performing Saturday.
“I think it’s going pretty good,” she said. “We seem like we’re pretty prepared, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Bennett said that ultimately, some students may choose to pursue scientific careers based on their experiences with Science Olympiad.
“One of the parents at this last tournament actually told me that due to Science Olympiad, his son is now an engineer for NASA,” Bennett said. “He said, ‘I’m almost totally certain it’s because of his experience with Science Olympiad that this happened.’ So, that’s cool.”
For a more detailed list of winners, visit http://sites.usd.edu/sdscienceolympiad/home/sdscienceolympiad-state-tournament-results.