March 10, 2013

Blinding me with science


---- — Many of us don’t understand it; some even fear it. Science, however, is responsible for virtually everything we have in some way, shape or form.

If we want to continue to grow and improve, we need to encourage our youngest generation to embrace science, innovation and rational thought.

One small example of what I mean was on display last weekend, when local junior high students traveled to a regional Science Olympiad competition, showcasing their knowledge and skills. Since there were no real reporters there, only me, I thought I would share some of the event’s highlights.

As an aside, playing They Might Be Giants’ CD “Here Comes Science” on a continuous loop is a tremendous way to psych up a junior science competitor on a two-hour drive to Potsdam. 

The song “I Am a Paleontologist” will stick in your head for days, however. Oh yes it will, oh yes it will, oh yes it will.

I have to say that in one short afternoon, I was astounded to find out how much I just don’t know. For instance, apparently, wizardry and science are two completely different things. Huh. Meteorology is not the study of meteors. And Pluto isn’t a planet anymore?

I also discovered that Science Olympians do not like being called nerds or geeks. If you insult them in such a way, they will not punch you in the nose or give you a wedgie. No. They will program your car alarm to play “I Am a Paleontologist” at 3 a.m. They will use your DNA to implicate you in the death of Hugo Chavez. They will dissolve your underwear with sonic vibrations.

Some of the events at the Science Olympiad were closed to the prying eyes of parents. Others, though, were open for everyone to see, and there was a lot of interesting stuff going on.

My own son was involved in the “Mousetrap Car” competition. Apparently, vehicles can be run entirely on mousetrap power. I don’t know why the government has not tapped this abundant and renewable energy source.

The key is to use cruelty-free mousetraps, then harness the captured rodents to your car, which can then be fueled indefinitely on crumbs and old cheese.

He also competed in “Gravity Isn’t Just a Theory,” where students unsuccessfully attempted to levitate their moms’ good china.

In the “Things Go Boom” event, 13-year-old children showed that they can make a working thermonuclear device in less than 60 minutes, using only items that they were able to procure on Craigslist.

For “Magicians are Frauds,” teams used an elaborate series of pulleys, levers, cameras, lasers, mirrors and hats to tell you what your card was (four of diamonds). Also, they had to saw a female volunteer in half and put her back together again without getting too much blood on the floor.

In another event, “Breathe, Now Breathe!,” students transplanted the lungs of a live baboon into a human volunteer (not the same volunteer from the magician event).

Thanks so much, by the way, to all of the dedicated volunteers who made the Science Olympiad work.

For the “Survive the Zombie Apocalypse” competition, subjects left over from the “Raise the Dead” event were set loose in a SUNY Potsdam dining hall — OK, they may have been college students after a particularly late Friday night.

Hitting close to home was the “High School Terrifies Me” event, in which young minds had to tackle the great scientific problems of teen-hood before they reach ninth grade. Squads aimed to cure acne, invent a way to quickly grow facial hair — allowing them to buy beer and cigarettes without being carded — and devise a method of hiding their IQs so that they don’t become social pariahs.

My favorite event may have been “Ice Ice Clone Me,” in which one-time rap star Vanilla Ice was replicated in a giant test tube. This proved to be even more difficult than it sounds, as none of the kids had the faintest idea who Vanilla Ice was. No, not a dessert topping.

“Robot Overlord” was fun, too, as each school tried to build a robot that would first defeat the other team’s robots then put all of humankind under its ruthless metal thumb.

In “Time Travel Isn’t Easy, But It’s Theoretically Possible If You’re Careful With The Paradoxes,” students were tasked with building a working time machine and going back in history to prevent the country’s election of President Presley in 1972 and the subsequent invasion of Canada. Not sure how that one worked out.

The relative handful of students participating at the Science Olympiad may not be able to change the world all by themselves, but they gave me some hope that we’ve still got a chance.

Now, if they could just get that song out of my head …

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