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Clarkson University Science Olympiad gives students hands-on science exposure

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POTSDAM — Heads were ducking as small balsa wood airplanes glided through the air Saturday in the Student Center Forum at Clarkson University.

High school students were designing and launching the planes or “elastic gliders” with a rubber band, with a goal to keep theirs aloft the longest.

It was one of many competitions students from 11 schools across Northern New York participated in during the annual Adirondack Regional Science Olympiad.

Students took part in several types of competitions with science lab or building, design and engineering events.

“The top three schools will go on to a state tournament that’s held in March on Long Island,” said Michael W. Ramsdell, Clarkson assistant professor of physics.

Mr. Ramsdell has been running the Olympiad every year since 1996, but the Olympiad has been going on for almost 30 years. This year, it had about 130 students in grades nine to 12, with 25 Clarkson volunteers helping out.

“The events themselves can give students a flavor for engineering, design and scientific experiments, while giving them a chance to get on a college campus and interact with our students and Clarkson faculty,” Mr. Ramsdell said.

The events in the Student Center Forum, Science Center and multipurpose rooms were categorized as a chemistry lab, circuit lab, experimental design, technical problem solving and scientific identification with rocks and minerals and entomology.

“When they compete in these events, they’re doing a little bit of the scientific method by watching how the devices that they build perform and evaluate them as they go,” Mr. Ramsdell said of the students. “It’s different than simply coming on campus for a tour, because they’re digging in and doing a little bit of science while they’re here, and the competition aspect makes them want to do better.”

Kimball G. Henderson, an 11th-grader from Thousand Islands Central School District, Clayton, said he was looking forward to the “boomilever” competition, in which students would design and build the lightest cantilevered wooden structure and see how much weight it could hold, with a goal of 15 kilograms.

“It really gets us out and exposed to science and technology,” he said. “That’s the field that we need to put more people into, so getting young minds into the fields of science and technology is really big because there’s a lot of opportunity.”

Emma J. Kroll and Anna R. DeRosa, both ninth-graders at Potsdam Central School, said the events were really challenging “in a good way.”

Miss Kroll preferred the building events because she wants to be an architect, while Miss DeRosa’s favorite event was a 60-question multiple-choice test on anatomy and physiology.

“I want to be a microbiologist,” Miss DeRosa said.

Edward A. Oliver teaches ninth- to 12th-grade chemistry and earth science in the Thousand Islands district.

He said 10 students from the school participated in the Olympiad this year.

“It’s a great experience for them because it puts their feet to the fire,” he said. “Things can go wrong and they have to think on their feet to problem solve and deal with negatives and contingencies that weren’t expected.”

Colin M. Stutz, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at Clarkson, was helping out during the elastic gliders competition.

“I did a lot of stuff like this when I was in high school,” he said. “Clarkson has a really big presence in a lot of the high schools. We do robotics and stuff like that with them too.”

Harriette M. Craig, an eighth-grade science teacher, and David J. Collins, a special education teacher, brought nine of their students from Northeastern Clinton Central School, Champlain.

“This really opens their eyes to the possibilities of their future,” Ms. Craig said.

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