Science Olympiad claims first place, captures historic victory at state competition

Luke Hutchinson | Online Editor

Yogesh Patel | Staff Writer

For these scientists, winning is not rocket science.

The Science Olympiad team placed first in the Ohio State tournament and will proceed to the national competition at Colorado State University for the first time in the team’s history.

Last season, the team missed qualifying by two points; senior captain Alex Wang said he and his teammates used the loss as leverage to prepare for this year.

“Going to nationals has been a dream for a lot of us since seventh grade,” Wang said. “We’ve been watching the livestreams, and we have seen all these people having fun and doing well at nationals. It has been something I’ve wanted for six years, and last year was pretty rough when we didn’t make it, but now we’ve worked so much as a team to qualify this year.”

At competitions, teams compete in 23 events that pertain to various scientific subjects like earth science, biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. With every mistake made, teams accumulate points, and a higher total means a lower placing. 

One event the team usually places high in consists of building makeshift helicopters and flying them, but at the state tournament, the project went south. Senior captain Alyson Lam, who specializes in the helicopters event, said a significantly short flight caused the team to place 31st.

“We’ve been doing well with helicopters all year: at MIT we placed second and had a really good flight,” Lam said. “At states, all our helicopters broke, and we ended up getting about a five second flight when they are usually upwards of three minutes. I had faith in my team and their hard work, but to let them down at this crucial moment was so incredibly frustrating.”

The team went into the awards ceremony thinking their helicopters placing ruined their shot at making it to Colorado. Wang said he was shocked to find out that the success of the other 22 events overshadowed their loss.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen, but besides helicopters, all 22 other events placed fourth or higher, so we ended up with nine first places and five second places,” Wang said. “Everybody on the team had been so consistent in all of their events that getting almost last in an event didn’t even matter because we were so far ahead of the other teams.”

As a team centered around academic-based competition and hands-on application, senior member Ranjani Ramasubramanian said SciOly deserves more recognition than it receives by the high school.

“I think SciOly deserves more credit than it gets, and I think that extends to most academic-based clubs or teams at Mason,” Ramasubramanian said. “The school puts a lot of focus on its sports, but we’ve been one of the top four teams in the state for so many years, and I think we’ve earned the right to be regarded with equal importance.”

From left: Juniors Jenny Hong and Emily Fang and seniors Alyson Lam and Alex Wang captained the Science Olympiad team to a state championship. The team will advance to compete at Colorado State University on May 18-19 for the national competition. 

The national competition in Colorado takes place on May 18 through 19 which conflicts with the senior graduation ceremony. Despite being initially upset to be missing graduation, the team would rather stay longer at the competition and relax than race back to graduation. Ramasubramanian said everyone is too stoked about the National Competition to worry about graduation. 

“None of us are even the slightest bit upset about missing graduation, especially due to the reason being nationals,” Ramasubramanian said. “This year, we have made Mason history. No Mason SciOly team has ever qualified for the national yournament, so to be able to bring home that first place trophy is an indescribably satisfying feeling. We’re living not only our own dreams, but the dreams of our friends who never got the chance to go to nationals.”

A total of 60 high schools and 60 middle schools compete in Colorado, but one school from California, named Troy, has won first place at the national tournament in 11 years. Junior captain Jenny Hong said the team has executed effective strategies to be successful this year, but the overwhelming objective is to defeat Troy.

“I admire everyone on our team for bonding together so much, but we were definitely still looking for strategies to study and build more efficiently this year,” Hong said. “We tried to make sure everyone had a plan while studying this year, but now we just want to beat Troy. It’s going to be a long journey to beat them, but we’ve been waiting so long to perform on the national stage. We are going to take the opportunity and use it well.”

In regards to how the team will hold up to the best in the country, Lam said the pressure only encourages the team to perform better.

“We are going into nationals coming off the best season in the 15 years our club has existed,” Lam said. “When we went to MIT, we had had two wins at invites in Ohio, but still we weren’t expecting much since the caliber of competition was something we had never faced before.”

Despite the challenge, the team placed second and Lam said their recognition pushes the team to perform better. 

“We have gained attention on the forums for beating almost all of the top ten teams,” Lam said. “This is our first time ever qualifying, yet lots of people have predicted us to place within the top three.”

Click below to enlarge and view in slideshow mode.

Photos contributed by Science Olympiad.