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St. Albert students bring home Science Olympic gold

Event challenges teams to build robo-ball sorters
BOING! — A ball bounces out of the sorting device built by Team The Revelers during a demonstration in the Paul Kane science lab held April 9, 2024. Shown here are team members and Paul Kane students (L-R) Manar Sharif, Amira Refaat, Daria Tsybukova, and Samuel Heer. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Paul Kane engineers brought home some Olympic gold last weekend after building some ball-sorting contraptions at the regional Science Olympics.

Some 165 St. Albert and Morinville students were at the University of Alberta Butterdome April 7 for the 2024 Edmonton Science Olympics — an annual event that sees students use science and engineering to solve practical challenges created by members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA).

Student teams had to complete various take-home and in-person mystery challenges with direct connections to the school curriculum. Judges graded their solutions and awarded certificates if they met the gold, silver, or bronze standard of excellence.

Medal haul

At least four St. Albert teams won gold at the Olympics, a quick email poll by the Gazette found.

Two of those were from Paul Kane, which regularly wins golds and silvers at this event, said team coach and Chemistry teacher Michael Ng.

“We’re quite feared by the other schools,” he joked.

“They know we’re coming for them!”

High school teams at the Science Olympics had to build a robotic arm that could pick up, sort, and move coloured balls, said Paul Kane Grade 11 student Daria Tsybukova, who won gold as a member of Team The Revelers. Teams were specifically asked not to build a generic claw machine, which made this task extra challenging.

Tsybukova said The Revelers built their sorter using scrap metal, 3D printing, welding, and a car-door actuator.

“The idea was [based on] an Archimedes screw,” she said, which is a device commonly used to move water uphill.

The sorter uses an auger to lift balls out of a box and drop them onto a ramp leading to the goal area, Tsybukova explained. A human operator pushes a button to open or close a trap door in the ramp to divert unwanted balls to another area. The operator can also use a lever to reposition the auger to grab more balls.

Tsybukova said the team had a brief moment of panic during the competition when their device sent balls bouncing out of the goal area, but quickly compensated by changing the angle of the auger. They sorted 15 balls in the time limit, which was more than any of their competitors.

Ng said this design drew a lot of praise from the judges and applause from the audience due to its simplicity and effectiveness.

“Their parents were so proud watching them as well.”

For their mystery challenges, Tsybukova said high-school teams had to build a shock-absorbing bumper from scraps and use a ramp to get a marble to fly a specific height.

Other St. Albert-area teams to win gold at the Olympics were Miss Hillier’s Little Minions from Sister Alphonse Academy and the Elmer S. Gish Brainstormers.

Life lessons

Ng said the Science Olympics were a great way to get students interested in science and engineering careers, and gave his students a huge confidence boost.

Team Revelers member Amira Refaat said she had a lot of fun seeing innovative ideas at the Olympics. She planned to earn a science degree at the U of A after high school.

“Science is definitely a big part of everything you see in life,” she said, and it can help you understand how the world works.

“If you’re looking at a human in front of you, you know there’s science going on.”

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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