Over 1K students from 42 schools participate in annual Science Olympiad at UW-River Falls

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On Jan. 20, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls played host to an event that has doubled in size since its inception only seven years ago — the annual Science Olympiad competition.

Sixty-four teams from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and North Dakota high schools took part, with organizers estimating that 1,050 students participated in 30 events.

"Science Olympiad is a national level competition," said physics professor and event organizer Earl Blodgett. "Local competitions like ours are an important way to show students that UWRF is very interested in STEM subjects, right along with our competitors."

As an example of the importance the UWRF event is rapidly attaining, all four states represented at the event had their defending state champion teams present. Schools from as far away as Lincoln, Neb., and Bismarck, N.D. were represented.

Subjects in the Olympiad were as varied as the STEM fields themselves. Students took part in competitions in life science, chemistry, physics, thermodynamics, astronomy, experimental design, engineering and nearly two dozen other categories.

"The forensics event was especially fun," Blodgett said. "Students used chemicals to solve a 'whodunit' in a 'Game of Thrones' setting."

More than 100 volunteers were needed to help run the event that sprawled out across campus due to its sheer size, according to Blodgett.

"We get faculty, students, alumni and friends of the university to help us," Blodgett said. "The best thing about all of it is that some of the volunteer students we get are people I know have been competitors in this event in the past. It does make a difference and it is a lot of fun."

Originally known as the "border battle" due to its Wisconsin/Minnesota focus, Blodgett notes that the event has grown so quickly that participation rules had to be changed.

"We used to let schools bring lots of teams, but now it's limited to two," he said. "We let the junior varsity teams be bigger, so more kids can take part, but we had so many kids, it took us two hours to give out the awards this year."

In the end, though, the Science Olympiad is about more than a single day's competition.

"It's about having a real impact," Blodgett said. "It's a way to show that science really is fun and that UWRF cares about STEM programs."