Science Olympiad

From Academic Kids

This article is about the Science Olympiad competition for secondary schools in the United States. For information on the science olympiads such as the International Physics Olympiad or the International Chemistry Olympiad, see International science olympiad.

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Science Olympiad is a primarily American elementary, middle school, or high school team competition that requires knowledge of various science topics and engineering ability. Over 14,000 teams from the 50 U.S. states and Canada compete each year.



Science Olympiad began as the Delaware Science Olympiad. A writeup in The Science Teacher of December 1977 caught the attention of Dr. Gerard Putz, who proposed that the program be expanded beyond Delaware. After tests in Michigan at the Lawrence Institute of Technology and Oakland University in 1983 and 1984, Putz and Delaware director John Cairns took their idea to the National Science Teachers Conference in Boston. The first National Tournament was attended by representatives of 17 states, held at Michigan State University in 1985. Since then, the program has expanded to reach all 50 states and Ontario, Canada.


There are four divisions in the hierarchy of Science Olympiad:

Division A1 for elementary school (grades K-3)
Division A2 for elementary school (grades 3-6)
Division B for middle school (grades 6-9)
Division C for high school (grades 9-12)

Note that 3rd, 6th, and 9th graders have the option of competing in either of the two divisions in which they meet the grade requirements.


There are twenty-three events in which competitors face off on a single day. Events fall under three main categories: Science Concepts and Knowledge, Science Processes and Thinking Skills, and Science Application and Technology. They are either knowledge-based (i.e. written tests or laboratory tasks in earth science, physics, biology, and chemistry) or engineering-based (i.e. participants construct a device to do specified tasks).

Knowledge-based events generally have two participants either taking a test, performing experiments, and mathematically analyzing data. Examples of such events are Cell Biology, Chemical ID, and Science Crime Busters.

Engineering-based events have a team of two to three participants. They are to construct a device following a specific event's parameters and test the device against others. Examples include Mission Possible, Robot Ramble, Bridge/Tower Building, and Storm The Castle.

The majority of events require two team members, though some require more. If one member is unable to attend an event, the other is able to continue, depending on the event, with the competition, though at an obvious disadvantage.

Team structure

Teams are hosted by the school from which the participants attend. A teacher, parent or student, usually a volunteer, coordinates the team in practice and preparation for the competition. A team can consist of up to 15 students and 2 alternates. In the middle school level, only 5 freshman are allowed to compete on one team, and at the high school level, only 7 seniors are allowed per team. Home school groups may also form teams to compete, and are at no inherent disadvantage.


The winner of the competition is determined by each team's overall score. Each school is ranked in every event, based on that event's rules. The teams overall score is then calculated by summing the rank of the school in all events (1st place receives 1 point, 2nd place 2 points, etc.). The team with the lowest overall score is declared the winner.

Competition levels

Science Olympiad competitions occur at a regional, state and national level. Normally, the top four teams advance from regional competition to state. In most states, the top team advances from state to the national competition. Some states with a larger number of teams are able to send multiple teams to the national competition to represent their larger presence. About 60 teams compete at the national level each year.

Some states, most notably Ohio, hold Invitationals as well. These competitions serve as "practice rounds" for qualifying tournaments, and are hosted by individual schools. In the past few years, teams from other states including Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Mississippi have begun journeying to Ohio to compete in these Invitationals.


The National Science Olympiad competition is held in May at a different university in a different state every year. Teams either stay in student dorms or nearby hotels.

The competition officially begins on the day (a Friday) before Saturday's competition with opening ceremonies. Usually a notable speaker, such as a Nobel Laureate, will give a speech. Following this is the traditional Swap Meet, when all the teams bring bags of state memorabilia to trade with other teams from all over the country. Most popular items include hats, license plates, and t-shirts.

Saturday includes seven time blocks. Each block includes a 50-minute section for each study event, while building events are usually "walk-in," where competitors sign up for a time slot.

That night, a semi-formal Awards Ceremony is held. It opens with a short speech, which is followed by the awarding of medals for the top six teams in each event, including trial events (events that do not count to the overall team score). At the end, the top ten teams are awarded trophies.

In some national tournaments, scholarships are awarded to the top teams in each event. In 2005's competition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, first-place winners received waivers for a four-year undergraduate tuition. Extra prizes are also given out for certain events: in Disease Detectives (Division C), the first-place team is given t-shirts and a trip for the two competitors and their coach to tour the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention facility in Atlanta, Georgia.

For 2006, the national competition will be held at the University of Indiana at Bloomington. It will be followed by: 2007 - Wichita State University, 2008 - George Washington University, 2009 - Augusta State University.

Past national champions

Division B

Year School State
1985 Slauson Intermediate School MI
1986 Slauson Intermediate School MI
1987 Gompers Secondary School CA
1988 Irmo Middle School SC
1989 Irmo Middle School SC
1990 Irmo Middle School SC
1991 Grandville Junior High School MI
1992 Jenison Junior High School MI
1993 Thomas Jefferson Middle School IN
1994 State College Junior High School PA
1995 State College Junior High School PA
1996 Booth Middle School GA
1997 Booth Middle School GA
1998 Booth Middle School GA
1999 Booth Middle School GA
2000 Booth Middle School GA
2001 Booth Middle School GA
2002 Rising Starr Middle School GA
2003 Booth Middle School GA
2004 Booth Middle School GA
2005 Winsdor Plainfield Community Middle School NJ

Division C

Year School State
1985 Seaholm High School MI
1986 Seaholm High School MI
1987 Irmo High School SC
1988 Haverford High School PA
1989 Irmo High School SC
1990 Irmo High School SC
1991 La Jolla High School CA
1992 La Jolla High School CA
1993 Grand Haven High School MI
1994 Grand Haven High School MI
1995 Harriton High School PA
1996 Troy High School CA
1997 Grand Haven High School MI
1998 Solon High School OH
1999 Troy High School CA
2000 Troy High School CA
2001 Harriton High School PA
2002 Troy High School CA
2003 Troy High School CA
2004 Fayetteville-Manlius High School NY
2005 Harriton High School PA

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