Caltech has been selected to host the 38th annual Science Olympiad National Tournament, an online competition to be held on Saturday, May 14, 2022.
About 2,000 middle and high school students will participate in the event. The 121 teams they represent will have outcompeted thousands of others, advancing from regional and state competitions to this ultimate challenge. Teams from every state will be joined by a global ambassador team from Japan as a result of a 10-year educational partnership between Science Olympiad and the Japan Science and Technology Agency.
On the tournament day, competitors will test their knowledge, skills, and ingenuity in 23 events focused on topics within physics, biology, Earth science, engineering, and chemistry.
Pairs and trios of students from each team of 15 students will compete in six hour-long blocks of parallel events, from decoding encrypted messages to analyzing chemistry lab scenarios. Volunteer event supervisors, often scientists with Caltech affiliations, will resolve any technical issues and answer questions.
Caltech will provide an array of online opportunities in the days leading up to the tournament so that participants can explore career paths, preview student life and academic opportunities at a world-leading research university, and virtually explore Southern California with insider guides. The tournament's live-streamed opening and awards ceremonies will feature Caltech speakers. A STEM Expo will connect students with representatives from science- and engineering-focused companies and universities. And there will be diverse opportunities to talk about cutting-edge research with practicing scientists and engineers, including Caltech students, faculty, and alumni.
"It will be a great opportunity for us to be able to share our research with others and for people in school to get to see that," says Caltech undergraduate Jolly Patro, the co-president and event coordinator of the Caltech Science Olympiad Club.
The club drove the effort for Caltech to host the 2022 national tournament, with enthusiastic support from Caltech's administration.
"What an opportunity to unite people around a common love of science," says Felicia Hunt, Caltech's assistant vice president for student affairs and residential experience, who facilitated the Institute's commitment to host the 2022 national tournament. "Caltech and Science Olympiad students share an inclination to want to try something new, work hard as a team, and present interesting findings."
She adds, "The students in the Caltech Science Olympiad Club have demonstrated that they run tournaments effectively and with style. And over the last year, they embodied leadership during an exciting, challenging time for Science Olympiad. It's great to have a part in their success."
The virtual Science Olympiad 2021 National Tournament will be hosted online the week of May 17 by Arizona State University, with a handoff to Caltech at the close of the event.
While 2022 will mark Caltech's first hosting of the Olympiad's national tournament, the Caltech Science Olympiad Club has hosted the state tournament since 2016. After COVID-19 safety measures canceled some tournaments in 2020, Caltech volunteers gained expertise in virtual tournaments. The online platform now used nationwide was built and piloted here in Southern California. Sixty volunteers from Caltech, working with 120 volunteers from nearby universities, led development of the first virtual Southern California Regional Tournament in February 2021 and the online Southern California State Tournament in April.
Now, members of the Caltech Science Olympiad Club are stretching their imaginations to plan the 2022 national tournament. The club welcomes new volunteers from Caltech and the local community.
Peter Hung (BS '08, PhD '16), who founded the Caltech Science Olympiad Club in 2004, is one of the 2022 tournament's organizers. He says he became involved in Science Olympiad programming because he wants to give young students access to the life-changing opportunities he had.
Hung first heard about Caltech when his own high school Science Olympiad team reached an impasse while building a Rube Goldberg machine for a challenge. A teammate invited his brother, a Caltech student, to help. Now a two-degree alum employed by The Aerospace Corporation, Hung volunteers as the Southern California Science Olympiad State director and secretary of the organization's national executive board.
"If it weren't for Science Olympiad," says Hung. "I wouldn't have applied to Caltech and my career would be completely different. I wouldn't be a researcher and scientist today."
For her part, Jolly Patro, a sophomore in chemistry at Caltech, began competing in Science Olympiad events as a 14-year-old in order to do something fun with her friends. She discovered her passion for chemistry through tournament events and the weekends she spent preparing for them.
Patro says, "I could not stop smiling when we heard from Felicia Hunt that we got the A-OK for Caltech to host the national tournament. Science Olympiad is a really neat way to see that science is cool and you can have a ton of fun doing it."
Above: Caltech Science Olympiad Club volunteers Jolly Patro (upper left) and Miriam Sun (BS '20, lower right) oversee Science Olympiad competitors in April 2021. Jaden Tang (upper right) works on a Crime Busters event, Joelle Cheeseman (center) calculates settings for a mousetrap vehicle, and Dhruv Panchagatti (lower left) sets up his vehicle.