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Cornell to host national Science Olympiad

About 2,000 middle and high school students will show their science and engineering acumen at the 35th annual Science Olympiad National Tournament, May 31-June 1 at Cornell. Above, science labs are among the events for middle and high school students at the National Science Olympiad. Photo provided

Approximately 2,000 middle and high school students from across the nation will show their science and engineering acumen at the Science Olympiad National Tournament, being hosted for the first time by Cornell.

The 35th annual tournament, May 31-June 1 on campus, will feature teams from schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as a Global Ambassador Team from Japan.

“Universities are second to none in effecting change in the world, and we have a vital responsibility to advance the cause of STEM education,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “This year’s Science Olympiad is an amazing opportunity for us to host some of the nation’s most promising young minds.”

The opening and closing ceremonies in Barton Hall are open to the public, as are many of the competition events at venues across campus, including Robert Purcell Community Center (RPCC), Barton Hall and Bartels Hall.

Teams will begin checking in on campus May 29. Activities including an ice cream social and tours of the Museum of the Earth are planned for May 30.

The Olympiad begins May 31 at 9 a.m. with trial events including a Science Quiz Bowl and traditional Science Olympiad favorites, all day at various locations on campus; a STEM Expo at 10 a.m. in the Physical Sciences Building; and lectures by Cornell professors.

Tournament events will run 7 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. June 1, with competition categories including Protein Modeling, Codebusters, Designer Genes, Dynamic Planet, Disease Detectives, Sounds of Music, Fermi Questions, chemistry and circuit labs, astronomy and experimental design.

Science Olympiad teams represent where they’re from in the Parade of States at the national event’s opening ceremony. Photo provided

The closing ceremony is at 7:30 p.m. June 1 in Barton Hall; doors open at 6 p.m. Following medal and trophy presentations, a post-ceremony celebration is at RPCC with music and activities.

Teams participating from schools in New York state are: 

  • Columbia High School, East Greenbush, Rensselaer County; 
  • Eagle Hill Middle School, Manlius, Onondaga County; and
  • Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School and Ward Melville High School, both in Setauket-East Setauket, Suffolk County.

The opening ceremony starts with a Parade of States at 6 p.m.; doors open at 5. The keynote address will be by electrical engineer/roboticist Grant Imahara, known to young scientists for his roles on the television show “Mythbusters” and the Netflix series “White Rabbit Project.”

Also giving remarks are Science Olympiad alumni Lav R. Varshney ’04 and Colin Barber ’17.

Varshney graduated magna cum laude from Cornell with honors in electrical and computer engineering (ECE), and is now an AI researcher and assistant professor of ECE, computer science and neuroscience at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

In 2000, he led a team from Fayetteville-Manlius High School to fourth place in the National Science Olympiad. His coach was chemistry teacher Jamie M. Cucinotta, who took Fayetteville-Manlius to 10 straight Science Olympiad state championships and a national championship in 2004. Cucinotta is the co-director, with Savvas Papadopolous ’18, of the 2019 National Tournament.

Barber also competed in Science Olympiad under Cucinotta’s tutelage at Fayetteville-Manlius. The Microbe Mission event introduced him to microbiology, his subsequent Cornell major; in 2014, he helped establish Science Olympiad at Cornell, which hosts an annual invitational tournament. 

Barber is now a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley. He helps lead Golden Gate Science Olympiad and the Science Olympiad Alumni Task Force, and coaches a Science Olympiad team at Mission San Jose Elementary School in Fremont, California.

Papadopoulos, co-director of the tournament at Cornell, competed in Science Olympiad while in middle school and high school in Levittown, New York, and won gold medals in state competition in two of the flying events – Wright Stuff (2010) and Elastic Launched Glider (2014). The experience led him to study civil engineering at Cornell.

He was on the first executive board of the Science Olympiad at Cornell Invitational and helped organize annual tournaments. The Cornell group was approached in 2016 about possibly hosting the national tournament on campus, and Papadopoulos took a lead role in the bidding process, serving as liaison between Science Olympiad and the university.

The 2019 tournament’s sponsors include Computer and Information Science, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Cornell Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences and Syracuse University.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.