Weeks of research, design and problem solving paid off for students who received top honors at the Science Olympiad at Touro’s Lander College for Men (LCM) on March 19. The winners, Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR), Ramaz Upper School and David Renov Stahler (DRS) Yeshiva High School were among 12 area Jewish day schools that convened at the Touro College campus in Kew Gardens Hills for a busy afternoon of scientific inquiry and friendly competition.
From intricate wooden towers and electric cars to invasive plants and animal species, students were put to the test, participating in STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and math) research considered necessary for success in today’s job market.
“This event brings together some of the best and brightest students from our Jewish high schools,” said Dr. Moshe Sokol, dean and professor of Lander College for Men, the Olympiad’s headquarters for the seventh year.
“Many of them will make singular contributions,” he added, “not only to the Jewish community but to the broader world around us: in science, technology and medicine. It is crucial that we nurture these talents early on, and competitions are a wonderful catalyst for learning,” said Dr. Sokol.
In a race-against-the-clock competition called “Towers,” students poured 15 kilograms of sand into a bucket suspended by chains from their structures, which they designed based on parameters of length, width, height and material. Amid cheers of jubilation, the towers engineered by Manhattan’s The Heschel School, and others, withstood the weight and did not collapse.
Other challenges included “Write It, Do It” where students wrote a technical description of a contraption (made with styrofoam and pipe cleaners) after which their partners recreated it using only the written description.
“It’s a team effort, it’s very social and they get to problem-solve together,” said Lisa Carle, a teacher at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva School.
Another “Road Scholar” provided participants with a travel story, maps and latitude/longitudinal coordinates to calculate a correct distance. Students Joshua Dorfman and Ari Stein said the task was difficult. “I like GPS better!” joked Stein.
In all, there were 13 contests in the Olympiad, which was organized and co-sponsored by the Jewish Education Project (JEP) and took place on a Sunday.
“The Jewish Education Project is proud to have made it possible for Sabbath-observing high school students to participate in the Science Olympiad for the past 15 years,” said Judy Oppenheim, associate director of day schools and yeshivot for JEP. “The excitement was palpable.”
Laurie McMillan, events coordinator for JEP added, “Touro’s Lander College has been a remarkable venue for our activities, and the support we receive has been wonderful.”
Students who have taken part in past Olympiads have gone on to pursue higher education degrees in science, including MD-PhD’s in medicine; electrical, computer, chemical and civil engineering; mathematics; physics and chemistry.
Dr. Ann Shinnar, deputy chair of the LCM chemistry department said she was pleased to facilitate the competition, “and to share our state-of-the-art science facilities at LCM with these high school students who are so enthusiastic about studying and applying the natural sciences.”
Students from TABC won first place for building an electric vehicle made to travel a given distance in the shortest amount of time while staying in a straight line. They also won for their ecology project.
“I feel really happy that we accomplished this,” said Michael Schwartz of TABC. “We worked for it and we earned it,” he said.
But not all projects were executed perfectly. Zach Rothstein, a sophomore, realized his electric vehicle was underpowered because he used a low-voltage battery. “I’ve done engineering projects before, and I could have made this faster,” he said. Undeterred, he was headed for Technion University in Israel that evening for the Global Robotics Competition.
Guest speaker Dr. Judah Weinberger, vice president for collaborative medical education and associate vice president of undergraduate education at Touro College, described the ups and downs that scientists routinely experience on the road to success. “Science is not a straight line. You have to have losses, and in science, there are a lot. But companies look for people who have failed and picked themselves up,” he said. “I’m here to encourage you to just go for it.”