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What is Science Olympiad?

First Place Team

Science Olympiad is a competition for elementary, middle, and high school students. Teams compete in a regional qualifying tournament, a state finals tournament, and then the top 120 teams in the national are invited to the national tournament. Each year a different university in the nation hosts the national tournament. UCF hosted its first national tournament in 2012 and was invited to host 2014 as a result of its excellent stewardship and its dedicated host committee.

Teams that compete are comprised of up to 15 students, lead by one teacher called a coach, that compete in 23 different events. The events are in physics, chemistry, earth space science, biology and engineering. Students engage in hands-on, interactive, inquiry-based activities that are lab-based, research-based, or prebuilt.

Types of Events:

  • Lab
    Lab-based events are those like Physics Lab, Forensics, or Can’t Judge A Powder By Its Color, which require students to complete a lab activity on competition day.
  • Research-based events are those like Amphibians and Reptiles, Disease Detectives, and Rocks and Minerals which encourage students to prepare research materials prior to the competition and use them in the event.
  • Prebuilt-events are engineering based in which students build a device to accomplish a task or goal and the device is tested onsite at the competition.

How to get involved:

It is simple to enter: A coach registers a team for the competition in their home state. Many teams first attend a regional competition. Then, based on performance at the regional, the team may progress onto the state and finally the national competition.

When a coach registers for the competition, a rules manual is sent which contains the guidelines for each of the 23 events in which the students will compete. For example, the rules for Physics Lab will guide the students to prepare for content that may be in energy, but does not give the specific lab the students will be required to perform onsite at the competition. They must have a broad understanding of the concepts, as well as the skills to perform an experiment quickly and accurately.

During the course of the competition, students are required to complete the lab, conduct research, or compete with an engineered device within a 50 minute period. All of the 23 events offered each year are team based and students work in teams of two or more on each event. Students will typically compete in 3-4 events during the day and often across a range of scientific disciplines.

In each of the 23 events, teams are evaluated by event supervisors who determine how well students complete the task based on the rules described for each event. For example, in the engineering events, event supervisors will evaluate if students have created their device using the correct dimensions and materials, within the limitations of the rules. Students learn how to think like a scientist or engineer while being evaulated in real-world, authentic experiences. Rather than discussing a report, the teams must be ready for any scenario that might be encountered within the confines of the rules. In other words - the teams must be able to think on their feet!

WhiteHouseScience Olympiad is the only competition highlighted in the National Science Education Standards (1996) as an excellent example of linking inquiry and assessment. In addition, Science Olympiad has been highlighted in the 2007 National Governors Report as a national model to learning science and mathematics. In 2011 and 2012, students from Science Olympiad were invited to the White House Science Fair where they met President Obama.

In the tradition of sporting events, Science Olympiad awards medals/ribbons to the top performing students in each event and trophies to the top performing teams. Students take pride not only in their performance but also to their contribution to the team’s performance. Often, students depart the competition with a strong sense of accomplishment, looking forward to next year, yet their ranking may indicate a quite different response would have been expected! Science Olympiad builds a love of science and learning that goes beyond all other academic programs.

This rich experience provides students with something that no other competition does: It encourages teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking.


The Science Olympiad was created in 1983 by Dr. Gerard J. Putz and Jack Cairns to increase interest in science and as an alternative to traditional science fairs and single-discipline tournaments. After successful trial Science Olympiads were held in their respective states of Michigan and Delaware, the Science Olympiad began to grow. Now, Science Olympiad has members in all 50 states, totaling more than 12,000 actively participating K-12 schools.

The Tournament

Each secondary team of 15 will prepare throughout the school year to compete in Science Olympiad tournaments held on local, state and national levels. These inter-scholastic competitions consist of a series of 23 team events that encourage learning in biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, problem solving and technology.

Events in the Science Olympiad have been designed to recognize the wide variety of skills that students possess. While some events require knowledge of scientific facts and concepts, others rely on science processes, skills or applications. This ensures that everyone can participate, including students from technology classes or advanced science classes.

Team Spirit

Although some events in the Science Olympiad are based on individual achievement, all events involve teamwork, group planning and cooperation. That is the real essence of the Science Olympiad. Our emphasis is on advanced learning in science through active, hands-on, group participation. Through the Olympiad, students, teachers, coaches, principals, business leaders, and parents are all bonded together as a team working toward a goal.

We would like to provide an alternative to the “isolated scientist” stereotype and remind students that science can be fun, exciting and challenging all at the same time. In college and beyond, students will find that the team spirit and good sportsmanship they develop during Science Olympiad will be deciding factors in their success.

Our Goals

The Science Olympiad is devoted to improving the quality of science education, increasing student interest in science and providing recognition for outstanding achievement in science education by both students and teachers. We hope to achieve these goals through participation in Science Olympiad tournaments, classroom activities, and summer training institutes for teachers. We also hope that our efforts can bring academic competition to the same level of recognition and praise normally reserved for athletic competitions in this country.