HAMMOND | Thanks to TV shows such as "CSI," forensic science has taken on nearly rock star status at Science Olympiad competitions.
Attired in white lab coats, lab aprons and goggles, teams from middle schools and high schools became “crime busters” in the event of the same name during Saturday’s regional Science Olympiad at Purdue University Calumet.
Within 45 minutes, the teams needed to identify five unknown liquids, five metals and 10 powders using such substances as iodine and hydrochloric acid and litmus paper.
Lab partners seventh-grader T.J. Lowe, 13, and sixth-grader Ariana Adam, 12, from Whiting Middle School waited with their forensic kit outside one of PUC’s chemistry labs to begin detecting “who done it.”
“We look at crime scene evidence. We have to check such things as chromatography and fingerprints,” explained Adam, who participated in Science Olympiad events while in elementary school.
A first-time Science Olympiad participant, Lowe said the experience is valuable.
“Anything we learn now will help us later,” he said.
Students from St. Thomas More School in Munster received last-minute “pregame” instructions from parent-coach Marilyn Drake during their inaugural entry into a regional Science Olympiad.
“One of you do chromatography. Another one do liquids. It’s more important to be specific. You have to be able to prove who did it,” Drake said to the four members of team from the school, all sixth-graders.
Rey Rodriguez III, Declan Urbaniak and Kameron Green, all 11 years old, and Matt Nahnsen, 12, wore white lab coats and name tags much like the technicians in the TV shows.
Of the group, Green said she already plans to become a forensic scientist. Her mother, Kelly Green, was also a parent-coach and said, “It’s a good experience. This is stressing the importance of science.”
Rodriguez’s father, Rey Rodriguez Jr., also provided his experience as an electrician to train St. Thomas More’s two teams.
“I would like to see more businesses supporting Science Olympiad. The library in Munster was wonderful to let us use space,” Drake said. “I’d like to see this treated like a sport.”
Another future scientist, Destiny Smith, a seventh-grader at the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, competed in her sixth year of Science Olympiad events.
“I want to become a science professor,” said the 13-year old. “I’m still looking at which field of science.”
When asked what their goal was for the 2013 Science Olympiad, students from Valparaiso’s Benjamin Franklin Middle School shouted “first place at regionals and at state.”
Coached by Valparaiso High School science teacher Aundrea Narron and parent mentor Laurie Eberhardt, the team of sixth- through eighth-graders wore green T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Franklinium – In Our Element.”
T-shirts are a symbol of pride and identity for Science Olympiad teams. The team from Scott Middle School in Hammond, for example, sported orange T-shirts that identified each of them as a “D.O.R.K” – Dedicated Overachieving Responsible Kid.
Approximately 450 students from Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper and Marion counties participated in the PUC regional Science Olympiad, said Sharon Schleigh, assistant professor of science education at PUC and co-coordinator of the event. Fellow coordinator Gretchen Wolf, long-time Science Olympiad regional/state director, will retire this year.
To keep the events on schedule took 35 volunteers including PUC faculty, business people and college students, Schleigh said.
PUC Chancellor Thomas Keon said the most important part of hosting the competition “is to get young people to know they can come to a college campus, see a college campus and become interested in coming to college.”