Barnette Magnet wins first place in Alaska Science Olympiad

The Barnette Blazers of Barnette Magnet School in Fairbanks won first place in the 2024 Alaska Science Olympiad on Saturday, Feb. 24.

“Yeah! We’re going to the nationals!” cheered one of the Barnette students during the award ceremony.

Barnette Blazers at the Science Olympiad award ceremony
Photo courtesy of Naomi Hutchquist
The Barnette Blazers proudly display their first-place prize in the Alaska Science Olympiad 2024 award ceremony.

The annual science, technology, engineering and math tournament took place Friday and Saturday at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Twelve student teams from 13 middle schools across Alaska competed in 17 events that challenged student knowledge and hands-on skills.

As the first-place team, the Barnette Blazers will travel to Michigan State University to compete nationally May 24-25.

Aurora Borealis from Aurora Borealis Charter School on the Kenai Peninsula won second place. DPCS Dinos from Discovery Peak Charter School in North Pole won third place.

On Friday, teams arrived with arms full of items constructed for the competition, test materials and overnight gear.

“Wow, this place is so fancy,” said one child in awe of the Wood Center at UAF. Hosting the statewide Science Olympiad at UAF allows middle school students the opportunity to get a taste of college campus life.

Throughout the day, teams bustled across campus with competitive focus and gumption. Coaches and parents uttered advice to kids between events. Teams had prepared for these two days since the beginning of the school year. 

Tournament events included written exams, laboratory demonstrations and building challenges. This year, students built vehicles, towers and roller coasters.

Students’ handmade constructions, built from materials such as balsa wood, 3D-printed plastics, PVC piping, two-by-fours and even paper, faced challenges.

a college student in a green shirt and two middle school students in black team shirts looking at a balsa wood and cardboard model rollercoaster
UAF photo by Sydney Jolin
UAF graduate student Jonah Jossart assesses the Chinook Atomic Science Bombs' roller coaster design for Alaska Science Olympiad 2024.

“We try to guide [the students] but try to be hands-off,” said Shannon Morgan, a Barnette teacher who coaches the Barnette Blazers. “They’re really the engineers and designers of these things.”

A successful Science Olympiad roller coaster can carry a marble through its course at a precise given number of seconds between 30-60, announced on competition day. Roller coaster designs that include jumps or loop-de-loops also receive points.

UAF graduate student Jonah Jossart coordinated and judged the roller coaster event. At the start of the event, Jossart announced that marbles should take 42 seconds to run their course.

“You just made my day!” said one student from the Aurora Borealis. She knew her roller coaster design could do exactly that.

Her design incorporated a strategy to adjust the slope of the wooden track using metal pins that fit into drilled holes. For each possible slope configuration, she had recorded the time for a marble to travel her roller coaster.

As Jossart placed the marble on her track, the girl squeezed her friend’s hand as they both squirmed, eyes fixed on the rolling marble.

When Jossart announced that the marble took exactly 42 seconds to traverse their roller coaster, the girls squealed and everyone cheered.

Following the tournament events on Friday night, teams enjoyed evening activities in the UAF Student Recreation Center, including skating, swimming and rock climbing. Teams also slept overnight in the Student Recreation Center.

On the shuttle to the Student Recreation Center, students erupted in excitement. Even if the students’ experience differed from what they may have expected, said UAF fiscal manager and volunteer shuttle driver Shannon Watson, they still appreciated the experience.

Science Olympiad laboratory event
Photo courtesy of Sarah Ellen Johnston
Students compete in the Can't Judge a Powder event, in which they identify a mystery substance using lab techniques.

“We did terrible, but it was great!” Watson overheard one kid exclaim on the shuttle.

During Saturday’s standing-room only award ceremony, the crowd celebrated students winning medals, rewarded for their hard work. Despite the fierce competition, everyone was supportive and showed good sportsmanship, said Barnette Blazers coach Morgan and co-coach Christina Shaw.

“We really appreciate UAF for being able to host a bunch of crazy middle school kids, letting them run around and be excited!” Morgan said. “[UAF] has been incredibly supportive, and [Alaska EPSCoR Associate Director] Tara Borland is a fantastic director of all the fun. We really appreciate her!”

The Alaska Science Olympiad is organized by the Alaska National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, the UAF College of Engineering and Mines, and the UAF College of Natural Science and Mathematics.

Sponsors of Alaska Science Olympiad include the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, ConocoPhillips, Alaska 529, Alaska Blue Economy Center, the Alaska IDeA (Institutional Development Award) Network of Biological Research Excellence, Brian Rasley, the Westmark Fairbanks and Sophie Station Suites.

Visit the Alaska EPSCoR website to learn more about the Alaska Science Olympiad.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Additional photos are available.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Tara Borland, Alaska EPSCoR associate director,