Students from Hardy Middle School sweep medals at American University’s Annual Optics Olympiad

Hardy Middle School Eighth Grade Team led by Science Teacher Chantel Kornegay. Photo Credit: Elaine Bole

Students from the Hardy Middle School in northwest DC won the gold and silver medals and tied for bronze at American University’s third annual “Optics Olympiad,” a science fair and competition for DC middle-school students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The students learn about physics-based science careers and research in the areas of lasers, vision and optical engineering.

Gregory Harry, American University Professor and the founder and coordinator of the Optics Olympiad. Photo Credit: Elaine Bole

“We’re trying to get middle school students interested in science —seeing it as fun, but also something practical that can be applied to things in their own lives,” said Dr. Gregory Harry, a Physics Professor at American University and the founder and coordinator of the Optics Olympiad.

“The idea for this came from a similar activity I did when I was in high school,” said Dr. Harry. “I applied for a grant from the National Science Foundation and one requirement of that grant was that, in addition to research, you also had to do some outreach project. Our goal is to expose all middle school kids who are interested to science, optics and fun.”

“One thing I love,” said Hardy Middle School science teacher Chantel Kornegay, “is every year Dr. Harry and his team do outreach to our school. Students get a chance to see what they have learned in their eighth grade science classes applied through the hands-on activities that Dr. Harry and American University staff bring to the students.” Kornegay’s eighth-grade students have participated in the annual Optics Olympiad since it started in 2017.

2018 American University Laser Demonstration at Optics Olympiad. Photo Credit: American University

“The students’ favorite part is at the end of the science fair, when they get to compete in the Jeopardy Games. The students love it. They get to not only compete with other schools in the District, but they also get to compete with themselves. We bring seven teams, and through the process of elimination and rotation, sometimes Hardy is competing against Hardy,” said Kornegay. “I appreciate programs like this that exist at the middle school level, because you see a lot of programs like this at the high school level, but the idea here is to get them started early and engaged in meaningful science through rigorous activities. I think this is phenomenal.”

More than 100 middle-school students from Kramer Middle School, Hart Middle School, Hardy Middle School, Washington School for Girls, Stuart Hobson Middle School, Inspired Teaching Public Charter School, and the Lab School of Washington attended American University’s Optics Olympiad.

For more information on the program, go to