When New Albany Middle School science teacher Kirsten Jaster refers to "nerds," she means it in a good way.
"These are the people who will rule the world, who will be giving us jobs in the future," Jaster said.
Jaster said she is expecting 3,000 people, many of them "nerds," to attend the New Albany Science Olympiad Invitational on Saturday, Feb. 22.
"It's an amazing opportunity to highlight or showcase school districts," Jaster said. "We'll have some of the top teams in the nation represented."
The invitational opens at 8:30 a.m. in the middle school and high school buildings. The awards ceremony will begin at 5 p.m. in the New Albany High School gymnasium.
Science Olympiad coordinator and parent volunteer Andre Vatke said organizers expect 50 middle school teams and 41 high school teams from Ohio, as well as Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas and Pennsylvania.
Each team has up to 15 students and they will be accompanied by coaches and parents, Vatke said.
This is the third year New Albany has hosted the invitational. Twenty schools attended the first year, Jaster said.
It expanded last year to include high school teams, Vatke said.
The Science Olympiad competitions help improve science education nationally "through classroom activities, research, training workshops and the encouragement of intramural, district, regional, state and national tournaments," according to the Science Olympiad website.
The New Albany Science Olympiad Invitational will be a practice for regional competitions but students will receive individual and team awards based on points earned from events, Vatke said.
The regional competition, the qualifier for the state competition, will be held March 15 at Grandview Heights High School. The state competition will be held April 26 at the Ohio State University.
Teams can check for results of the New Albany Science Olympiad Invitational at nascioly.org.
Vatke said the Science Olympiad competitions challenge students to test scientific principles.
One event, called the Rotor Egg Drop, requires middle school teams to "construct a helicopter device which uses one or more helicopter rotors to safely transport a raw chicken egg from a specified height to the floor," according to the Science Olympiad website.
Another, called Boomilever, requires middle and high school teams to "build a cantilevered wooden structure" that has to hold a certain amount of weight, Vatke said. Scores are based on strength-to-weight ratio, he said, which means students could build something that weighs only 10 grams, "something you can barely feel in your hand that can hold a 22-kilogram weight."
"The neat thing about this is the science and also that they get to see other kids' stuff," Vatke said. "What works well tends to get around and they learn to try new things. It spurs not only creativity but also the scientific process."
The middle school and high school divisions have 23 events and at least two team members work on each event, Vatke said.
"It promotes the idea that in science, you rarely work alone," he said. "You have to work with other people with different personalities. You work within a process."
New Albany Middle School students, who were preparing for the invitational last week, said they are learning a lot from Science Olympiad.
"I'm in heredity (a Science Olympiad event) and in science class we're beginning a unit that's similar to what I already learned, so I'm sort of ahead in it," said sixth-grader Josh Inlander.
Seventh-grader Chloe Chapham said she learned about solubility from Science Olympiad. Now that her science class has reached that unit, she said, she is helping other students with the concept.
The students have different reasons for committing to Science Olympiad, which requires them to meet at least once a week after school.
"I really like science and when I heard about Science Olympiad I thought it would be a great way to do more," Inlander said.
Sixth-grader Sedric Granger said both of his parents are scientists. He said he joined to impress his parents and so he could get good grades in science.
Seventh-grader Katie Vatke said she initially joined after watching older siblings compete and said she hopes her work in Science Olympiad will look good on a college application. She said she wants to be an architect and knowing about structures and construction will help.
Sixth-grader Lillie Sherrill described Science Olympiad as "sort of like a sport without being athletic."
Competition is part of it, but so is making friends.
"I have a lot of friends who are in it and I thought it would be a nice opportunity to be with my friends and meet new friends," Chapham said.
Katie Vatke said she met students from Immaculate Conception Parish and School of Columbus at the 2013 invitational and is looking forward to seeing them again this year.