CRYSTAL LAKE – The Olympics came early to Crystal Lake Central High School as more than 700 students engaged in a battle of brains rather than brawn.
Saturday marked the 10th annual Science Olympiad Invitational, where 41 teams competed in 23 events that challenged their scientific problem-solving skills in fields such as forensics, physics, chemistry and astronomy.
The competition is one of many in the region to prepare schools for the official regional competition in early March that serves as a stepping stone to state and national tournaments. The experience has proven to be valuable, as the inaugural event included 12 teams compared to the 41 accepted this year out of the 63 that pursued a spot.
Doug Wilbrandt, a chemistry teacher at Crystal Lake Central and organizer of the event, said his team competed in four other olympiad competitions before Saturday’s and finished as high as second in one tournament.
“It used to be that a team would have to go straight to the playoffs but now these competitions serve as more of a conference game,” Wilbrandt said. “It doesn’t really matter where you finish. It helps the kids build confidence and see what they can do to improve.”
Teams must be well-versed in various scientific disciplines to succeed. Competitions range from forensics, where students must identify powders and analyze hair strands, to a bungee drop competition, where students must use physics to get the perfect drop.
Wilbrandt said fielding the right team takes a mix of students dedicated to making a career in a science field and others who have interest in science but all bring an outside view.
“Some of the kids that come to the club were born with a pocket protector in their diapers,” Wilbrandt said. “Others come because they are interested and find they really enjoy being part of the group.”
Elizabeth Schmidt, a junior at Crystal Lake Central, is the latter. Schmidt said she has no plans to pursue a career in science but loves learning more about the areas of science that do interest her and being part of a diverse group.
Schmidt, who has been with the team since her freshman year, is now co-captain of the club.
“It has a place for everyone,” Schmidt said. “Everyone has to take biology and chemistry in school but you might only love one part of it. Here, you can just do that one part you love and that’s what’s so cool about it.”
Other students such as New Trier sophomore Charlie Costakis plan to learn all they can from the science olympiad experience to pursue a career in the field. As a member of the Illinois runner-up club last year, Costakis said he has already found a niche on the engineering side of the competition with boomilever event.
A boomilever is a wooden device that has one end connected to a wall and must support a weight that hangs on the other end above the floor.
“These kind of competitions are really good for building events because you can see what you need to do to improve for regionals,” Costakis said. “But I think today went well. We might have placed pretty high.”