Tag Archives: Natural Sciences

Middle, High Schoolers Coming to Science Olympiad at Parkland

Towers will be tested, robots will be reaching, and hovercraft will be hovering for science! The regional Science Olympiad competition will take place at Parkland College this Saturday, March 4.

The Science Olympiad draws hundreds of students from over a dozen area schools. Students will work hands-on to solve problems across a variety of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, and technology. Our awards ceremonies will be held in the Dodds Athletic Center beginning at 3:15 pm;  top teams will then compete at the state tournament, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on April 29.

During the regional tourney, each team will participate in 23 events spread out across campus. Our X wing will have students testing Rube Goldberg devices. Our gym will host students operating helicopters. Students will be using their wind turbines in our M wing. Others will be studying microbes in the L wing or looking at constellations in the Staerkel Planetarium.

The regional Science Olympiad is a great way to get students excited about science! Campus volunteers will be helping to run the events in this competition. For more information, contact Erik Johnson at ejohnson@parkland.edu.

[Erik Johnson is a full-time faculty member in Parkland College’s Natural Sciences department.]


New Heart-Rate Tech Helps Teams, Trainers

Parkland College’s new Polar Team Pro heart rate telemetry system contains technology primarily used by professional and collegiate sports teams to track training volume.  Parkland acquired the system when it was released internationally this summer; we were the first to have the system in the United States.

Our Cobras Women’s Soccer team is currently using the system to make sure they are not over- or under-training during their competitive season. But they’re not the only ones benefiting from this new technology. Dalton Swenson, one of our student trainers, explains below.


Training Tool. The athlete wears the transmitter during games and competitions, and it records multiple data points for that person. Inside the transmitter is an accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate monitor, and GPS, as well as other technologies. As the athlete trains outdoors, Polar has 13 satellites that look for the signal. When four satellites pick up the signal, the athlete’s position on earth is monitored, as well as her speed of movement, change of direction, etc.

So, the athlete/coach can review the practice/game and see exactly where the athelete was during every second of that session, what their heart rate was at the time, how fast they were moving, etc. All of the data points objectively help tell the athlete how hard the session was for her on that day, and how long she will need to recover from it. It will also give total calories burned during the session so the athlete knows how much food she needs to refuel.

Learning Tool. Our Parkland Kinesiology students are learning the system and are helping the intercollegiate coaching staffs here interpret the data to give practical advice to student athletes on training intensity, training volume, nutrition, and recovery strategies. It gives our students experience with a product that is typically seen with world-class soccer programs (such as our United States women’s team), the NBA, NFL, and Division I football and basketball.

If they want to become a strength and conditioning coach, or work in the growing field of analytics, this technology gives them a huge leg up on the competition. It also aids the personal trainer or physical education instructor who is going to work with a different clientele, but where heart-rate telemetry can be highly effective in aiding the client.

For the regular person, there are inexpensive heart-rate transmitters that an individual could use to get similar information on their own workouts. Obviously they won’t be as fancy or intricate as this system, but they will help you make important training decisions and get a clear understanding of how hard a session really was.

[Chris Warren is director of the Parkland Kinesiology program.]

Men vs. Women Target Practice in Ballistics Lab

Learning to investigate manner of death is a part of criminal justice, but it’s not the doom-and-gloom process you might imagine. In fact, Professor John Moore and his Forensic Science II: Death Analysis class (SCI 208) had quite a ‘blast’ at it recently.


After searching unsuccessfully for a way to build “ping-pong ball cannons” for the ballistics lab section of SCI 208, Natural Sciences Administrative Assistant Karen Rocha stumbled across what are called “K-9 Kannons,” which are simply glorified tennis ball launchers. They work great—used incorrectly, they can actually launch ping-pong balls, too!

It's women vs. men in Forensic Science II: Death Analysis.
It’s women vs. men in Forensic Science II: Death Analysis.

Students were asked to hit a target (an open box on its side) at the far end of the lab, which requires a fast and flat trajectory (12–18” maximum ordinate). Following that, they were asked to “lob” a ball into the top of a box that is only a few feet away from the launcher, requiring a very slow and high trajectory (maximum ordinate approaching the ceiling). The goal was to adjust velocity and launch vectors to attempt to hit the target.

From a military perspective, the two tasks are the equivalent to a sniper and a mortar. In both classes, “teams” were set up men vs. women.

I am SO glad we decided to keep the high ceiling in that lab!

One of the guys launches downrange.
One of the guys launches downrange.

This spring, students only dealt with projectile velocity and the departure vector from the launcher. Next year, I will likely alter the actual mass of the projectiles, thus throwing them another variable to deal with.

(By the way, the guys took one of the sections, and the ladies took the other!)

To learn more about Parkland’s Forensic Science courses or other courses and programs in the Natural Sciences, visit the Natural Sciences web pages.