VALPARAISO | Thomas Jefferson Middle School student Megan Rahn spent a recent evening calibrating her salinometer, a device that measures how much salt is in water.
It was all part of preparations for the national Science Olympiad, which is Saturday at Wright State University in Ohio.
TJMS will send 15 students to the competition, which consists of 23 team events in the areas of life science, earth and space science, physical science, technical and engineering and inquiry-based science.
The trip marks the 24th time TJMS has competed at nationals, having won the title in 1993 and 1996. They have been state champions 21 times.
On Tuesday, students gathered at the school to finish preparations for events such as water quality, mission possible and the mousetrap vehicle.
“This is final phase week. We're fine tuning everything,” coach Rich Bender said.
Bender said the Science Olympiad differs from science fairs because it's not just one student involved in one event. Rather, each student will compete in three events out of a total of 23.
Emphasis is placed on hands-on participation, and working as a team is key, he said.
“We coach them like they are athletes,” Bender said. “This is based on the team, not the individual.”
In one of the classrooms, students Allison Skadberg, Nick Bluhm and Tim Henderson were hard at work conducting the final tests on their Rube Goldberg machine, a device that accomplishes a simple task using a complex chain reaction.
It starts by dropping a quarter into a slot and ends with a platform being raised above the machine.
“For as challenging as it is, it's also a lot of fun,” said Bluhm, who learned how to weld to construct the device.
Henderson also has gained skills in construction.
“I've learned how to use every power tool known to man,” he said.
In a nearby hallway, students Joey Lavalley and Abby Mitchell put their mousetrap vehicle through a test run.
They constructed the vehicle using a lightweight carbon fiber and experimented with 50 mousetraps to determine which was the strongest.
“The goal is to be as accurate and fast as possible,” Mitchell said.
More information about the Science Olympiad is at www.soinc.org. There will be live streaming the day of the event.