McMaster Science Olympics

More than one thousand students from 65 Ontario high schools, stretching from Windsor to Manitoulin Island, went to the Olympics Thursday. Not in Sochi, Russia, but on the McMaster University Campus. So what were they competing for? Scot Urquhart has the answer.

The awards are gold, silver, and bronze. But what they represent is a quest for knowledge. The McMaster Engineering and Science Olympics have been going on for 24 years now, encouraging students to take up studies in those fields and maybe win a share of $20,000 in McMaster scholarships, along the way.

There are some things that look like science. And some things that don’t.

“Starts here and goes to there, and this has to go under the middle.”

Building a bridge from a single sheet of paper is the science of Engineering. Part of the annual gathering of high school students from across Ontario who hit the Mac campus, to compete for possible scholarships and glory.

This may look like it’s low tech, but some serious scientific principles are at work here says McMaster’s Herbert Debruin: “It’s like a re-entry vehicle from space. If you’re going to bounce it off a desert floor, you want the people inside to be safe.”

This team, including Linda Qian from Don Mills Collegiate institute, had a theory to put to the test: “We just kept on cutting off from what we had before and cut wedging into it to have more vertices to break the impact.”

They got points for reduced weight, flight accuracy, and of course, an egg that didn’t break. Linda: “We broke like maybe a whole carton full of eggs.”

But the final design was a thing of beauty. And what engineering principles are involved Herbert?: “The engineering principles are saying you have to do a compromise, which is engineering. Engineering, you never get everything. You always have to trade off so you get enough of each.”

Linda: “It taught us a lot about how you have to have trial and error, and you have to keep going at it.”

Whatever floats your boat, you’ll find it at the McMaster Engineering and Science Olympics.

It appears that the team from Don Mills Collegiate tried and erred enough. Their design took first prize in the egg high jump. It’s really more like a carnival than a serious scientific exercise here. But the results are significant. Over the years, dozens of high school students attending this event, have ended up studying on the Mac campus and taking their first step toward a career in science and engineering.


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