UW-Madison to host Science Olympiad National Tournament on May 18-21

March 8, 2011

More than 6,000 students, educators and parents from around the country will visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison Wednesday-Saturday, May 18-21, for the 27th annual Science Olympiad National Tournament, one of the nation's largest and most prestigious competitions of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The event will bring together 120 winning middle school and high school teams that advance from state-level competitions this spring. Teams compete in more than two dozen scientific and engineering events on topics ranging from human health, ecology, chemistry, cell biology, geology and engineering. Awards are given for the best overall team score and individual scores in each event.

Two of UW-Madison's newest buildings — the new Union South and the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery — will be center stage for the tournament.

"We are delighted to advance participation in science and engineering while showcasing UW-Madison, the city of Madison and the state of Wisconsin to some of the nation's brightest young minds," says UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin. "Science Olympiad is a proven winner in generating enthusiasm for scientific study and encouraging young people to excel academically."

An after-school team activity, Science Olympiad provides rigorous, standards-based challenges to nearly 6,000 teams in 50 states. Science Olympiad's ever-changing event lineup provides exposure to a variety of career choices and to practicing scientists and mentors.

Visiting teams will participate in many campus and regional events on the days leading up to the Saturday, May 21, competition. On Thursday, May 19, teams can choose from campus science workshops or tours to regional sites such as Devil's Lake, Epic Systems or the Synchrotron Radiation Center. On Friday, May 20, a Wisconsin Experience open house at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery will promote UW-Madison academics and feature corporate sponsors. Tours for family and friends of teams are also planned.

Opening and awards ceremonies on May 20 and 21 will be held at the Kohl Center. The opening ceremony features the first dual performance of UW-Madison's famous showmen of science — chemistry professor Bassam Shakhashiri and physics professor Clint Sprott. Their programs — "Science is Fun" and "Wonders of Physics," respectively — have delighted tens of thousands of spectators during the past three decades.

The keynote speaker on May 20 is Keith Nosbusch, chair and chief executive officer of Rockwell Automation; the May 21 keynote will be given by Todd Kelsey, senior vice president of Plexus Corp. in Neenah. Rockwell Automation and Plexus are NSO gold sponsors.

The Wisconsin Experience event, the opening and closing ceremonies and much of the May 21 competition are free and open to the public. The competition features more than a dozen spectator events in the UW-Madison engineering and athletics facilities. Events include "Helicopters," a flight endurance contest powered by rubber-band engines; "Storm the Castle," a precision catapult exercise; and "Mission Possible," a Rube Goldberg device using many energy transfer steps to complete a task. New this year will be "Sumo Bots," robots engineered to push other robot competitors from a ring.

Members of the public also can participate as volunteers. NSO organizers anticipate needing more than 400 volunteers over the four-day period, covering the Dane County Regional Airport, registration at new Union South, off-campus tours, banquets and the competition itself. To learn more about how to volunteer, visit http://nso.wisc.edu.

Tournament co-directors Van Valaskey and Gary Graper, retired science teachers from Madison high schools, have decades of combined experience with Science Olympiad at the state and national levels.

Lead financial sponsors include UW-Madison, the Illinois-based national office of Science Olympiad, Young Scientists of America, the United States Air Force and combined support from John and Tashia Morgridge, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the Morgridge Institute for Research.

Other major sponsors include 3M Corp., Rockwell Automation, Bemis Corp., Plexus Corp., Trane Corp., University Research Park, J.H. Findorff and Son, Mortenson Construction, Alliant Energy, Madison Gas & Electric, Fish and Associates, Kohler Corp., Promega, GE and Patheon Pharmaceuticals.

UW-Madison landed the 2011 competition thanks in large part to UW-Madison College of Engineering dean Paul S. Peercy, a strong supporter of NSO. In 2005, Peercy developed an outreach program through which engineering undergraduates serve as mentors to help area schools form teams. More than two dozen NSO teams have been established through the effort, bringing the Wisconsin team total to more than 100.

"Increasing the number of people educated in science, technology, engineering and math fields is vital to American competitiveness," says Peercy. "Science Olympiad is one of the best programs I have encountered for inspiring a lasting interest in STEM disciplines."

National statistics show the demand for STEM talent is rising. The U.S. Department of Labor reported in 2009 that 15 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations predicted for 2014 will require significant math and science expertise. The Science Olympiad focus on teamwork, cooperation and real-world challenges has proven to be especially appealing to women and students of color, and can be a powerful tool in promoting much-needed diversity in STEM fields.