Skip to main content

Valley Journals

Murray High wins thermodynamics at Utah Science Olympiad

May 07, 2018 03:58PM ● By Julie Slama

Murray High students test their mousetrap car at the region Utah Science Olympiad where they placed third. (Aaron Daniels/Murray High)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

In their first-ever state competition in the Utah Science Olympiad, Murray High’s five-member team not only performed well, but also won the thermodynamics event.

The March 31 state contest at the University of Utah came after the school won first in chemistry lab, second in hovercraft and third in the mousetrap car and helicopter events at the regional contest in February.

“We did pretty awesome, especially against some of the big schools that actually have classes in Science Olympiad,” said coach Aaron Daniels. “The students were excited, blown away at how well they did. It was a lot harder than they thought, but they learned real-world applications with science.”

There were challenges along the way from organizing a student team to having the state competition being held on Easter weekend over spring break, which reduced the number of students who could attend to five. And even as they were getting off the bus at the U, when a gust of wind blew the balsa wood rubber-band helicopter out of a box lid and it broke, the team persevered, quickly adding superglue for a repair job so they could compete, Daniels said.

“It didn’t perform as well, but they didn’t give up,” he said about the competition where students build, test and fly a rubber-powered helicopter.

Part of the challenge was getting two members of the five-member team to as many events as they were prepared for across the vast campus, he said. He said that the team actually competed in eight events and finished 23rd overall.

In their first-place event, thermodynamics, the teams construct an insulated device prior to the competition that is designed to retain heat. They also had to take a written test on thermodynamic concepts.

Murray High built an insulator using a Styrofoam box and tested it several times beforehand by pouring hot water from a beaker and predicted what would happen. 

“Since they had tested it beforehand and were prepared, they were just two degrees off in the competition,” Daniels said.

The events ranged from anatomy to ecology to remote sensing in global warming.

“We encouraged students to join even if they said they weren’t good in science. Classroom science is different than the engineering process. This takes time to go through the design process and even though it can be frustrating, they’re preparing themselves for the real world,” he said.

Daniels, who had coached in Wyoming in the early 2000s, said much has changed.

“I had no idea what to expect, as the variables change, but this seemed to fill the need at the right time,” he said, adding that junior Naomi Crespo came to him wanting to begin a STEM – science, technology, engineering math – club at the school.

Katarina Nielson and David Vala jumped on board as assistant coaches to advise the team that has been meeting 90 minutes once or twice each week since November.

However, Daniels is quick to give the students the credit.

“In basketball or football, the coach plays a huge role. Here, it’s on the back of the kids. They have to put in the time and go through the trial and error of the engineering process,” he said. “They’re having fun and are excited for next year.”

This year’s regional results were junior James Collings, first, chemistry; club secretary senior Nils Larson and junior Wade Walton, second, hovercraft and third, helicopters; and club president Naomi Crespo and junior Karrie Norton, third, mousetrap car. At state, the team of James Collings and senior Connor Winder won the thermodynamics event.

Other team members include senior Ian Martinez, senior Alannah Maisey, junior Cole Lutkin and junior Sierra Archuleta, who serves as treasurer.