Omar Rashad / LA Times
West Torrance High School

West Torrance Science Olympiad builds away at Caltech

Matt La Rue was sitting in his car as his Electric Vehicle project, which took him two months to work on, hopped around in his trunk. La Rue, along with many of his other hopeful teammates, were bound for the California Institute of Technology to compete in the 2017 SoCal State Science Olympiad Tournament.

His Electric Vehicle was one of many different projects that West Torrance Science Olympiad had made, and after a stellar performance at the Antelope Valley Regionals, they were looking to claim a big title this year at State.

Four spectator building events at Caltech’s State Tournament were Towers C, Helicopters C, Electric Vehicle C, and Rubber-Powered Airplane C. It was with determination coupled with a robust work ethic that these West Torrance students were able to produce the projects that they put on display this past Saturday.

Towers C

dsc01975 West Torrance Science Olympiad builds away at Caltech
Steven Gee and Annie Dai examine their tower while it supports a sand-filled bucket with a chain.
Omar Rashad / LA Times

It was the night prior to the state competition that Steven Gee decided to double-check the weight of his tower. Much to his dismay, his tower exceeded the weight restriction that was set. Gee then decided to make a completely new tower, since there wasn’t much he could do to his old tower. So Gee glued away the different parts of balsa wood that he made to forge together a last-minute product for the state competition.

Not fully confident in his final product, Gee headed into the competition hoping for the best. Unfortunately, his product did not perform well.

Gee said, “The glue [in the tower] didn’t dry, which was one of the reasons why we didn’t perform so good today. It was unfortunate, but oh well…”

However, Gee went further to say, “I know I did the best that I could, and that’s all that really matters. And If I do the best that I can, chances are that it worked well enough.”

Although there is a ton of work that goes into making these different projects, there can sometimes be last-minute errors that come up in the end. At the same time, however, Gee is among many people who have learned from Science Olympiad that every ostensible failure progresses every individual towards a nearing success.

Helicopters C

dsc02022 West Torrance Science Olympiad builds away at Caltech
Danny Son sets his helicopter up, ready to take flight, and remain in the air for as long as possible.
Omar Rashad / LA Times

La Rue and Danny Son both attempted to pioneer a helicopter made out of light materials in order to constitute for the longest flight time possible. They worked their way around restrictions in order to build a model of a helicopter that would make for good results.

The building process was, as Son explained, “a lot of trial and error, a lot of guessing, and a lot of experimenting. There are a lot of ways to structure. To a lot of people, [the building events] look really easy, but the [building process] is very frustrating.”

Measurements, alignments, and specific placing are just a few areas that builders like Son and La Rue must adhere to. A meticulous precision as well as an unfaltering drive is what makes the best end product.

Along with the pressure to perform the best he could after putting so much time into his final product, Son said, “I was pretty nervous for Helicopters [C]. My parents were watching, and if you mess up once, it’s really hard to get back in the competition.”

Although West didn’t place top in Helicopters C, Son also said that Science Olympiad had given him a different perspective that he otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.

Son said, “Even if you’re afraid that you’re going to fail at something and [think] that there’s no chance of you succeeding, you should still try it. It’s because like who knows? Something good might come from it, or you might learn from your failures.”

Electric Vehicle C

dsc02233 West Torrance Science Olympiad builds away at Caltech
Matt La Rue examines his Electric Vehicle as he prepares for his first official run.
Omar Rashad / LA Times

This event consisted of making an electric-powered vehicle. The object was to have the vehicle go the longest distance it could, but if it went through certain obstacles, it would get bonus points.

It was after making his Electric Vehicle from scratch and finding that it wasn’t fully functional that La Rue decided to take apart an old RC Car. He essentially gave it an “upgrade” and replaced remote controls, its battery, and everything else except the base structure of the car.  With two months of work as well as up to three hours a day for the last few weeks prior to competition, a lot was riding on this project.

Regarding his performance on Saturday, La Rue said, “I was decently confident going into the competition. I did mess up a little [today], so I wasn’t entirely content with my performance.”

Although his mess up was meager at best, La Rue still took it to heart as an instance for improvement. Achieving a remarkable 6th place in his event, La Rue still thought he could have performed better, but was more than happy to take the medal home.

To sum up the day, La Rue also said that he thought he thinks that he did “a respectable job” and that it “wasn’t incredible or terrible.”

Rubber-Powered Airplane C

dsc02328 West Torrance Science Olympiad builds away at Caltech
Jaeinn Lee and Julian Rachman inspect their Rubber-Powered Airplane, hoping to post the highest time.
Omar Rashad / LA Times

After studying up on aerodynamics, Julian Rachman began his work on making a Rubber-Powered Airplane. In hindsight, it might seem easy to build an airplane that can fly for extended periods of time, but in actuality, the work, the meticulousness, and motivation behind creating an optimally flying airplane powered by a simple rubber band is often unnoticed.

Rachman said, “The balsa wood was very fragile. You’re trying to make the airplane as light as possible [in order to stay in the air longer]. So, the problem was that I had to make the pieces thin. Because they were so thin they broke easily. Sometimes the piece would be too thick and making a product at that precision at that small-scale was pretty hard.”

Although “towards the end, [Rachman] was nervous,” his efforts paid off as he got a 2nd place award in his division. Success is not always guaranteed, but making everything just right and getting lucky enough for nothing to go wrong on competition day is sometimes all you need in order to place.

Although West did not take a medal in every category, or results did not pan out as much as first hopes had wanted, West ended the day with their heads held high. After a strong performance at state comp, they congratulated their seniors and are now looking to the future paving the way and passing the baton to the next group of STEM-minded individuals looking to take charge of this strong West Torrance Science Olympiad team.

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