Science Olympiad students in Mentor anxiously await the opportunity to reach the national competition, and Saturday presents a big step in that direction.
Thirty-five Mentor High School students and about 100 from Memorial, Ridge and Shore middle schools are among the 1,200 teenagers who will take part in the Science Olympiad Invitational Saturday.
The high schoolers began preparing for Olympiad season in mid-October, spending an average of 20 to 30 hours per week studying chemistry, forensics and other sciences. Senior captain Sarah Bork says that's the minimum it will take to unseat Solon and Centerville, the two teams that narrowly prevented Mentor from reaching last year's National Science Olympiad competition in Orlando, Fla.
We just have to improve more than they do," Sarah said. "Every time we get third (in the state competition), we're so happy, but we're so close that we can taste it and it kills us.
"Everyone wants it."
Saturday's invitational begins at 8 a.m. Throughout the day, the students will participate in more than 20 events, including chemistry lab, circuit lab, crime scene analysis, material sciences and elastic launch glider building. They will also enjoy a guest speaker, Dr. Bob Graf, who heads science and technology at Lubrizol Corp.
The students will receive help from multiple parents, volunteers and coaches like Dr. Sat Nistala, a technical services manager at Lubrizol.
"They do things I can't even imagine," Nistala said. "This country needs scientists and engineers for sure. (The Mentor team members) are all about science."
Bork said everybody on her team feels that way, and that's what has led to years of success.
"We all want to learn about science," she said. "We need to learn more and won't stop until we learn more. Everyone has that same drive — It's insane."
The regional competition at Case Western Reserve University is one week after the Mentor Invitational. Mentor will participate in the West Liberty Salem Invitational, near Dayton, in early March before heading to states in April.
"We'll get up at 5:30 a.m. to do testing all day, and we love it," Sarah said. "That's just how we are.
"We're a family."