Science Olympiad serious business for middle schoolers

By Charles H. Featherstone, Columbia Basin Herald

Students near airplane
Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Frontier Middle School student Makoto Miura prepares to launch the glider he and fellow student Aiden Mann built as part of the Science Olympiad competition at Big Bend Community College on Saturday.

MOSES LAKE — For eighth-grader Anita Valdez, one of the best parts of building things is watching them fail.

“I like to break them,” she said.

Just a few minutes earlier, Valdez and her partner and fellow eighth-grader Libby Retterer stood in a classroom in the Big Bend Community College STEM building on Saturday and presented their “boomilever” to judge Bobby Lane. Made entirely of balsa wood and held together by glue, the “boomilever” is a cantilever arm designed to hang from a wall and test the ability to design and build load-bearing structures.

“There’s thinner wood at the top for tension and thinner wood at the bottom for compression,” Valdez said. “I couldn’t test this design, so I’m hoping this will pretty much hold up.”

“It looks very nice,” said Lane, an engineer with Apollo Mechanical Contractors, an engineering and construction company based in Kennewick. “Did you draw this first or just put it together?”

“It’s based on a design we had earlier,” Valdez said, laughing. “But quite clearly I did not draw it; the sides are not the same.”

Valdez occasionally and very purposefully pulled a Rubik’s Cube out of her pocket and flipped the sides around.

“How much load?” asked Lane,

“I don’t know, four scoops? I didn’t measure. Four or five kilos?” Retterer asked.

“What’s your estimate?” Lane asks Valdez.

“Eight kilos,” she said.

“I think you’ll get 10,” Lane replied.

Retterer and Valdez, both middle school students at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Kennewick, hung their “boomilever” from a hook and then attached a giant plastic bucket, with Valdez using drumsticks to stabilize the bucket while Retterer slowly poured in sand.

“You have two more minutes,” Lane said after more than four scoops of sand.

And then SNAP! The “boomilever” collapsed under the weight of 5.3 kilograms — a little more than 11 1/2 pounds — of sand.

“That went better than some of the attempts where we were first doing it,” Retterer said. “It’s better than I thought it would be. Better than last year.”

The contest was part of the Science Olympiad held at Big Bend Community College on Saturday, the first time the 35-year-old nationwide science contest’s regional competition was held in Moses Lake. This year’s middle school event brought students from Frontier, Chelan, Ephrata, and St. Joseph’s to Moses Lake to test their knowledge of everything from chemistry and engineering to math and medicine.

To read the entire story, visit the Columbia Basin Herald website!

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