NORTHRIDGE — Strutting their expertise in matters ranging from reptile recognition to bottle rocketry, about 1,500 students from 105 elementary, middle and high schools competed Saturday in the 15th annual Los Angeles County Science Olympiad.
"This is a place for kids to practice science as a real event, outside of the classroom," said Arie Korporaal, who developed the county's first regional Science Olympiad in 1986.
This year, many of the approximately 30 events had to be brought inside at Cal State Northridge because of rain.
From one crowded basement hallway, students participated in a "Battery Buggy" event in which small, hand-constructed, battery-operated carts ran a short distance, then stopped at a finish line within a specified time.
Seventh-graders David Chavez and Joshua Foster, both 13, from Lakeside Middle School in Norwalk spent four weeks working on their buggy, with the help of science teacher Eric Marsoobian.
Their buggy took just two seconds longer to run its course than the 17 seconds they had estimated, stopping within 4 inches of the finish line.
"That was a very good run. They were very close," Marsoobian said. The boys finished seventh out of 25 teams.
Fewer than a fourth of the teams competing Saturday will be invited to the state Science Olympiad at Cal State Long Beach in April. The winner of the state event is invited to the National Science Olympiad in Colorado Springs in May.
Students weren't the only ones participating. Parents could win extra points for their children by volunteering, and dozens of Cal State Northridge math, science and engineering students were also on hand, as were schoolteachers and CSUN professors, who acted as judges.
"I like the idea that science can be festive," event manager Gary Widdison said. "It's not all lab coats and beakers. Science is a way of looking at the world."