About 500 middle and high school students from across the state will take part in an annual science tournament this weekend at the University of Northern Iowa.

UNI biology professor Jill Maroo is director of the Iowa Science Olympiad which is featuring 38 teams from 13 middle schools and 15 high schools. They’ll be competing in 25 events during Saturday’s day-long contest in Cedar Falls.

“They will compete in an event called Anatomy and Physiology where they will do a hands-on practical of anatomy and physiology,” Maroo says. “They will compete in things like Crimebusters, so think forensic science. They’ll look at blood spatters and they’ll do some tests about ‘What Is This Chemical?'”

The students will work in partnerships to compete in different scientific disciplines including chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, general science knowledge and more.

“Each team has a vehicle event and the younger students are doing what’s called a Mousetrap Vehicle,” Maroo says. “They build a car that is actually powered by a mousetrap. The older students are doing something called Gravity Vehicles. They build a ramp and the car comes off that ramp and is completely propelled by gravity.”

The competition is designed to build a number of skills that are critical in today’s world. While some events like this aim to nudge students into pursuing careers in science, Maroo says she has a different perspective.

“I actually am okay if they still want to do a career outside of science,” Maroo says, “as long as we spark that passion about science in them so that they are still loving science when they move on.”

The competition will wrap up with an awards ceremony with medals for winners, while others will take home scholarships of up to $500 each.