Engineering and science mind games

York University’s 26th annual Engineering & Science Olympics will pit over 1,000 high-school students from more than 70 Ontario schools in a fierce battle of wits and time involving a forensic crime scene investigation, a mock environmental disaster, battling robots and a Mars lander (that must touch down with an unbroken raw egg as a ‘passenger’). The one day contest runs Friday, May 6, from 8:30am to 3:30pm.

The games, being held at York’s Keele campus, feature six events aimed at taking science out of the classroom and putting it into action.

“The original concept behind the games was to get away from the traditional lab tours for prospective university students and to make science fun and exciting,” says event originator Keith Aldridge, York professor of geophysics. “Two of this year’s new events ‘CSI: York’ and ‘Flood!’ will give students an opportunity to test their forensic science skills and to predict how floodwaters from a giant meteorite crashing into Lake Ontario would affect Toronto.”

Aldridge noted that students especially like the competition because it is absolutely impartial. “All decisions on winners are quantitatively based (usually mass, length or time), so results are totally objective.”

Prizes will be awarded to the best three teams in each event (gold, silver and bronze) and a trophy will be presented to the overall winning school. Team events are designed by York professors in the Faculty of Science & Engineering to entertain players and spectators and to allow students to demonstrate their understanding of fundamental laws behind modern scientific and technological advances.

The six events in this year’s olympics are:

CSI: York – Students will be asked to investigate what appears to be an accident in the lab. But – is it an accident? What are those red stains? And what’s with the fish? Stay tuned…

Flood! – A meteorite is about to crash into Lake Ontario! Teams will use Etrex GPS receivers to map the expected flood waters at York University.

York Lander – Students will design and build a small “planetary lander”. A raw egg inside the lander must be protected from the impact arising from the lander being hurled from a predetermined height onto a target. This year’s “drop zone” features actual background photos taken on last year’s Mars mission.

Chemical Squabble – Teams will compete by making up formulae of chemical compounds in “Scrabble” fashion from a pack of cards, each of which has the name of an element or radical on it.

Robocode II – Using a robotics battle simulator, students will program a robotic battle tank in Java for a fight to the finish. Contestants will compete in heats, with the highest scoring robots competing in a final to determine the winning school.

Fermi Questions – Named for Enrico Fermi, who sought to challenge the quantitative thinking powers of his students with questions that required order-of-magnitude answers. For example, students could be asked to estimate the number of piano tuners in Toronto and other similar questions involving simple arithmetic and sensible guessing.

The Engineering and Science Olympics kick off at 8:30am in the main foyer of the Computer Science & Engineering Building located on the Keele campus. For program details see the Engineering & Science Olympics Web site.