The Kilmer Middle School library is quiet for just a few moments after school lets out, but it doesn't last long.
Dressed in matching blue T-shirts, 15 students on the school's Science Olympiad team flood in, toss their book bags, rummage through supplies and do whatever is necessary to prepare for the 2011 National Science Olympiad Tournament at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from May 18 to 21.
The students represent a dream team of sorts. Seven of the 11 eighth-graders on the team are bound for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology; 12 of the 15 attended Louise Archer Elementary School in Vienna, which is an academic gifted and talented center.
Students on the Kilmer Science Olympiad team recently celebrated a victory during the state competition, winning first place over the team to beat -- last year's state champion Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church. Longfellow Middle placed second this year at the state competition and 10th during the 2010 national competition.
"In one sense, you can say we're the biggest nerds in the state," joked Andy Zhao, 12, one of four seventh-graders on the team.
And how are they going to win the national title? "Hard work, determination and cheering," he said.
During competition, students work in pairs to participate in three events each. There are 23 team events focusing on science-based topics such as genetics, earth science, chemistry, anatomy, physics, geology, mechanical engineering and technology.
Seventh-graders Jordan Ganley, 13, and Aly Luckett, 12, spend after-school practice time preparing for the Microbe Mission competition.
"We're tested on diseases and how diseases spread," said Aly, one of four girls on the 15-member team. For this competition, students also are tested on the parts of the microscope and on disease types and their symptoms.
What makes this interesting to a seventh-grader?
"It's the fact that you can't see them, but they are there and they shape how our entire society works: our medicine, everything," Jordan said.
The camaraderie also helps, Aly said.
"It's really cool to see the atmosphere at the competition,"?Aly said. "Not everyone at our school is as interested in science as we are, and this is a room full of students who love doing this."
Eighth-graders Pranav Balan, 13, and Vikram Sardana, 14, will compete in the Shock Value competition.
"We build circuits mainly," said Vikram, adding most of the competitions include both a practical and a written test for students. Those who complete their tasks the fastest and most accurately win, he said. "Often [the practical] is a battery with a couple wires and one or two light bulbs. ... We have a test, it's a 50- to 55-minute test."
"You have to know how it works and there are formulas, and how to apply this to real-life scenarios," Pranav said.
Science Olympiad offers students an intensity in various subjects that they don't normally receive during school hours, they said.
"I like the challenge of it. There's really neat stuff and all this stuff isn't stuff we do in class," Vikram said.
Pranav added, "In class you learn about many fields, but you're not learning anything in depth or it's practical value. ... We're really excited to see Wisconsin."
Vikram, who will graduate from Kilmer Middle this year, interjected, "Next year, it's in Orlando. Can you believe that? Which means we missed it. It's a bummer."
Eighth-grader Alexis Gillmore, 13, cited the challenges of the competition as her main motivation. She and fellow eighth-grader Edi Danalache, 14, are readying for the Compute This! competition, which tests students' ability to maneuver through a government website.
"You basically have to use the website to answer questions on the [assigned topic]," Edi said. This year, students will be tested on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency tracking offshore storm systems.
Because they found the NOAA's website too cumbersome, "We made our own website. We thought it was easier to navigate than the NOAA website," Edi said. During previous years, teams were tested on NASA's and the U.S. Geological Survey's websites.
The excitement around Kilmer Middle School's Science Olympiad team comes as a shock to parents, who said they never expected the level of success or interest the team has generated.
"We had only seven kids last year," said parent Gabriela Danalache. Last year's team earned fifth place at the state competition. "We had 63 kids interested at the beginning of this year. We had to divide them into three teams [of 15 students] with 45 kids that went to regionals and only one [team] went to states. ... The interest has just boomed."
Kilmer Middle's team also includes seventh-grader Arthur Tisseront and eighth-graders Nate Vollbrecht, Sasha Trubetskoy, Nathaniel Taylor, David Noursi, Chris Liu, Jaisohn Kim and Alex Nelson.
The boom is extended nationwide, said Van Valaskey, an event organizer for the 2011 National Science Olympiad Tournament in Wisconsin. Valaskey has been involved with the national competition since it began in 1985.
"The competition has definitely gotten stiffer," he said, adding the 1980s competitions featured about 25 teams or 300 students. Today, the middle and high school competitions feature 120 teams, or about 1,800 students.
The elevated level of competition has fueled even more interest in the event, and competition organizers continue to explore ways to make future events even better, Valaskey said. Students are judged by college professors and science-field professionals, he said.
"The motivation [among competitors] is to do well, and if they're really motivated, they know they've got to really work," he said. The point of the competition "is to recognize a lot of young people who are very, very talented in [science, technology, engineering and math]; to give them the recognition that athletes have." Just like sports, he said, scholastic science can be about teamwork and trophies.
"It gets them excited and motivated in pursuing science in their post-secondary education."
Fairfax High School also will be competing in the national event, having won the state competition March 26 at Randolph-Macon College. The two schools will compete in different divisions.
how to help
The Kilmer Middle School Science Olympiad team is fundraising to help pay for the students' trip to the national tournament May 18 through 21 in Wisconsin.
To learn more about the team and donate, visit http://kmsso.org/.
To learn more about the 2011 National Science Olympiad Tournament, visit http://nso.wisc.edu