Seaborg Center hosts Science Olympiad

Keating Dinsmore, left, and Helen Erickson, both eighth-graders at Washington Middle School in Calumet, take part in a ÒPotions and PoisonsÓ activity on Feb. 16 during the Region 1 Science Olympiad. Their school finished second in Division B. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Olympic competitions aren’t just about alpine skiing, weightlifting and diving.

They can be about cell biology, health science and chemistry too.

Each year about 300 students from throughout the Upper Peninsula compete in many events in the Science Olympiad competition. The event has been sponsored by the Glenn T. Seaborg Mathematics and Science Center, located at Northern Michigan University, since 1987.

This year’s Region 1 competition took place on Feb. 16 in various rooms in the West Science Facility and Kathleen Shingler Weston Hall, formerly known as the New Science Facility.

Competition took place in five categories: Life, Personal and Social Science; Physical Science and Chemistry; Earth and Space Science; Technology and Engineering; and Inquiry and Nature of Science.

“It’s just across the spectrum of STEM education,” said Renee Jewett, program coordinator and STEM education consultant for the Central Upper Peninsula MiSTEM Region. She also is a contingent instructor in the NMU School of Education, Leadership and Public Service.

STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, has been at the forefront recently in many education initiatives.

Some of the events scheduled for the Feb. 16 event involved written tests as well as hands-on activities such as building a car propelled by a mousetrap.

“They come here and get their device tested,” said Jewett, who was the event coordinator with the help of many volunteers. “There’s other ones where they come here, and on site they’re given a bag of supplies.”

Then they have to build things, such as cantilever-type devices in which teams of two have only 30 minutes to build the item, with the goal of making the one that holds the most marbles, she said.

“There’s other ones where it’s just a chemistry event where they’re in their full gear, goggles,” Jewett said.

Helen Erickson, an eighth-grade student at Washington Middle School in Calumet, was one of those goggle-wearing participants.

She competed in “Potions and Poisons,” complete with things such as a beaker, bottles and eye droppers.

“I’m trying to find a reaction, trying to identify an unknown chemical,” Erickson said.

Overseeing that event was Paul Savoie, who teaches organic chemistry at NMU.

He was more coy about the topic when asked what it was about.

“They’re doing some reactions, and that’s really all I can say without giving too much away,” Savoie said. “After all, this is a competition.”

The day’s schedule included topics such as Battery Buggy, Crime Busters, Disease Detectives, Mystery Architecture, Protein Modeling, GeoLogic Mapping and Meteorology, among many others.

Jewett said 11 Division B teams and seven Division C teams competed in the Region 1 tourney.

Gladstone Junior High School won Division B, followed by Washington Middle School, second place; Holy Name Catholic Middle School, Escanaba, third; and Superior Central Middle School in Eben Junction, fourth.

Winning Division C was Superior Central High School, followed by Calumet High School.

These squads earned team medals and a trophy, and advanced to the state tournament in Lansing scheduled for April 27.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is