"Nerd" is not a negative word at New Albany Middle School.

"Nerd" is not a negative word at New Albany Middle School.

"I'm one of them at this point," said Science Olympiad program manager Parag Patel. "I'm the head nerd."

Patel said the Science Olympiad is growing at the high and middle schools, with the district hosting its first Science Olympiad invitational on Saturday, Feb. 11.

"Seeing these kids get excited about science and chemistry and construction and research gives me goose bumps," Patel said.

The Science Olympiad is a nonprofit organization that helps improve science education nationally "through classroom activities, research, training workshops and the encouragement of intramural, district, regional, state and national tournaments," according to the organization's website.

New Albany students have been competing in the Science Olympiad for 17 years. Middle school science teacher Kirsten Jaster organized the first teams at the middle school. Both the middle and high schools have teams now.

Patel said New Albany's Science Olympiad teams became a nonprofit organization last year, which has helped the students earn money for the supplies they need to participate. Students must use tools and common objects to complete challenging problems presented through the Science Olympiad.

Patel said New Albany's first invitational is for middle school teams only. Twenty-five teams have signed up, representing 13 Ohio school districts. Three of the teams are from New Albany.

New Albany students start the Science Olympiad season in October. They competed for the first time this school year in January. The season ends April 28 with the state competition at The Ohio State University.

New Albany Middle School students are practicing for the invitational several times a week. Eighth-grader Nikhil Malakalapalli said he studies a lot during practice because of the varied challenges presented in the competitions.

"You need to learn the names for bacteria (for one challenge) but you have to know all the different names for those bacteria," said eighth-grader Julian Vatke. "It can be tricky and you can't know all the answers. You basically are trying to miss (fewer) questions than the other teams."

Vatke said he doesn't get nervous about competing until they actually get to the competition.

Patel said on competition days the students may get up at 4 a.m. and leave New Albany on a bus at 5 a.m. They compete all day and don't return home sometimes until 9 p.m. "When they get back, they'll still be jumping up and down and screaming, and that's for science," Patel said.

Patel said the Science Olympiad teaches the students camaraderie because they get to spend time with others who are interested in the same things.

"People ask me, 'What drives you?' and I tell them watching these kids come to a science program," he said.