The Hawai‘i Science Olympiad is one of those programs that involves a lot of students, teachers and supporters, fosters a great learning environment and promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. But inspite of this the program gets very little media attention. I'd equate this program to the Science Fair or Robotics competitions but relatively new to the Hawaii scene. The Science Olympiad started in 2005 as compared to the Science Fair which is going on its 54th year. Nevertheless, the Science Olympiad has as much energy and conviction as any program that is determined to make a difference in Hawaii's students. This year's Hawaii State final took place on March 5th on the campus of Leeward Community College. As its name implies, the Science Olympiad is an olympics-styled competition but rather than physical activities student teams compete in topics like astronomy, optics, geology, biology, etc. Although most of the competitions are closed to public viewing (to minimize participant distraction) there are several like the bottle rocket launch where the public is welcomed. In this exercise, plastic soda bottles are used to design a rocket that gets pumped with 75 lbs of air pressure and launched into the air. The competitive measure was how long the rocket stayed in the air. Students could use basic materials to design fins and a cone as well as the right water to air mixture for propellent. Two other publicly viewable competitions included the mousetrap vehicle and tower building, each intense in its own way. This year's competition drew 48 teams, up from 23 last year. Teams came from all over the state, both public and private schools. Congratulations go out to Iolani School and Maui Preparatory Academy who placed first in the the high school and middle school divisions, respectively. Both teams will represent Hawai‘i at the National Science Olympiad Tournament at the University of Wisconsin in May. Franklin Allaire is the tireless director of this program and along with him is an army of coaches, judges, mentors and volunteers that make this program the success that it is. This group of people deserve a big round of thanks for encouraging a new generation of kids to explore and discover the limitless world of science and technology.
Maybe I would have been a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon if summer sessions like this were available back in my day. Pacific Center for Environmental Studies (PaCES) is a six-week intensive course for high school juniors and seniors held at Windward Community College. This past Tuesday, I had a chance to spend an hour observing the class as they processed DNA samples. David Krupp and Rob Hutchison conduct the program that included field trips to Coconut Island, collecting water samples around coral reefs and studying genomics. The program is concludes with a symposium where students present their research findings. David and Rob explain that the course is not about lectures and book readings. It's about problem solving and creative thinking. The exercise I saw had the students taking their DNA samples, sourced originally from water around healthy coral and stressed coral, and extracting key segments. The DNA was mixed with a marker solution to be then placed in a gel electrophoresis device. The photo above shows the DNA separated out in the gel, based on the relative weigh density of the DNA. Pretty cool stuff. The program consists of about 20-25 students along with mentors from previous years. Both David and Rob will be joining us on the radio (KIPO 89.3FM) this coming Wed. July 7th at which time we'll get to talk to them in more detail about the program, what students learn from it and how in some cases is pivotal in setting a future course for these students. Hope you will join us in the conversation.