Features - May 2012

DOE's National Science Bowl® Crowns Winners

2012 National Science Bowl high school competitors in front of the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, MD.
2012 National Science Bowl high school competitors in front of the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, MD.

If hearing the words “high school” and “science” in the same sentence brings to mind a grim physics final or a grueling afternoon alone with your chemistry test tube, you might be surprised to learn that thousands of kids across the nation participate in science as a team sport. And if the word “sport” doesn’t seem to fit with “science,” then you’d be even more surprised to learn that the U.S. Department of Energy annually hosts a National Science Bowl (NSB)—DOE’s academic Super Bowl for the country’s brightest and most dedicated high school and middle school math & science scholars. This year’s NSB brought together teams from all across America. The gold and the glory went to Lexington High School of Lexington, Massachusetts, and Hopkins Junior High School of Fremont California, who, respectively, beat an impressive 68 and 44 finalists. There can only be one winner for each competition, but the grit and the determination needed to compete will stay with everyone who participated.

DOE has sponsored its National Science Bowl since 1991. The goal? Encourage students to excel in mathematics and science and to pursue careers in these fields. A highly competitive event, NSB challenges teams of high school and middle school students to compete in a fast-paced verbal forum similar to Jeopardy. Teams solve technical problems and answer questions in all branches of science and math. Competitors arrive from diverse backgrounds, and teams comprise four students, one alternate, and a coach.

Lexington High School in the thick of competition. From left: Zaroug Jaisel, Alan Zhou, Jonathon Taylor, Julia Leung.
Lexington High School in the thick of competition. From left: Zaroug Jaisel, Alan Zhou, Jonathon Taylor, Julia Leung.

NSB’s high school competition now involves more than 13,000 students. The middle school NSB competition, which DOE introduced in 2002, now hosts 5,000 students. NSB is the only science competition in the United States sponsored by a federal agency.

The games benefit the students who compete, their schools, and ultimately the country. Teams earn rewards as they advance across the competition, such as cash prizes towards the winning schools’ science departments. This year’s grand prize was a trip to Alaska, with second runners-up receiving a tour of Great Salt Lake Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. Winning teams also receive trophies and plaques. Nationally, mathematics and science education help provide a technically trained and diverse workforce. More than 200,000 students have participated in NSB throughout its 21 year history.


A Day (or Three) in the Life

Thursday, April 26, 2012. A fleet of shuttle buses carrying regional qualifying teams arrives at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center just outside of Washington, D.C. To earn this expense-paid trip, these teams had to beat out more than 14,000 participating students competing at over 100 qualifying events nationwide. 


As part of their trip to compete, NSB students enjoy a night tour of Washington, D.C.’s
As part of their trip to compete, NSB students enjoy a night tour of Washington, D.C.'s 
monuments.

Students from Maine to Hawaii disembark carrying their iPods, cameras, and backpacks filled with essentials, good-luck charms, and a few textbooks for last minute cramming. They’ve just arrived, but already the spirit of competition is growing thick. The students filing out in their matching team t-shirts represent the best of their schools and regions. Today is an easy day, a chance to get settled, eat dinner, and maybe meet some new friends on a night tour of the city’s monuments.

Friday, April 27, 2012. It’s an early start, and everyone is dressed in official NSB t-shirts. But before the competitions start, students are treated to the USA Science and Engineering Festival. As the afternoon winds down, competitors get down to business. The high school students completed hands-on division team challenges based on NSB science disciplines and participated in AP reviews. Meanwhile, middle schoolers get their gears turning as the Model Car Challenge ignites with tune-ups and presentations. There are two parts to the car event: a race and a design contest. Today, the teams showcase their cars for the design judging. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012—Sunday, April 29, 2012. The weekend kicks off and the games begin. Saturday brings the Middle School round robin and double elimination events and Sunday the same for the High School competition. Throughout the National 4-H Youth Conference Center, science, technology, engineering, and math buffs are facing off. Inside each contest room, the crowd is as still as everyone waits for the next question. At the front of the room, two teams are poised like sprinters waiting to dash onto the next challenge. The poker-faced moderator clears his throat. Both teams lean a little forward. The time keeper checks his clock. “At 250K, the pressure of oxygen in a 1-liter container is 0.40 atmospheres. If 0.10 moles of carbon dioxide are added to the container, what will be the new pressure, in atmospheres rounded to the first decimal place?” Suddenly, the Team A huddles, working out a solution in hushed whispers and subtle hand gestures. A pony-tailed girl on Team B scribbles frantically as her teammates look on. One of them points a correction. She scratches. They nod. She takes a swing at the buzzer: “2.5” The judge nods, Team B scores! The answer wins the match, sending Team B to the next round.


Start Your Engines 

The Middle School competition has an extra feature designed especially for the young engineers in the crowd: the Model Car Challenge. For this event, students design, build, and race model lithium ion battery cars in a true test of creative engineering skills honed by hands-on experience. The competition is inspired by President Obama’s national clean energy goals to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, a key milestone to dramatically reduce dependence on oil and establish America as a leader in the growing electric vehicle manufacturing industry.



NSB middle school competitors watch anxiously as their lithium-ion battery powered model cars race down the track.
NSB middle school competitors watch anxiously as their lithium-ion battery powered model cars race down the track.

The Model Car Challenge lets students contribute toward this goal. The challenge accomplishes a number of benefits. Students are able to apply math and science principles they’ve learned in class to a creative, hands-on project. The competition also encourages team work and collaboration through problem solving and project management as students work through the design process and into building and modifying the team’s car. In addition, it’s a lot of fun.


Daniel Wright Middle School designed and built the fastest car for this year’s NSB Model Car Challenge. Front row, from left: James Wei, Andrew Jin, Andy Xu, and Allen Guo. Back row: Coach Sophia Capelli and Will Chang.
Daniel Wright Middle School designed and built the fastest car for this year's NSB Model Car Challenge. Front row, from left: James Wei, Andrew Jin, Andy Xu, and Allen Guo. Back row: Coach Sophia Capelli and Will Chang.

For this year’s race, student teams were provided a lithium ion battery, motor, battery connector, battery recharger, and an A/C adapter. They were tasked with developing a design schematic, including scaled drawings and assembly procedures, and building a functional model car that could race with a payload of one full water bottle. Teams steered their cars using a guide wire attachment with the all-important goal of keeping one’s car in its lane. To set the bar just a bit higher, the National competition held preliminary time trials, and only the 16 fastest teams were able to race in the double elimination tournament. The race took place at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School with 8 lanes set up across the gymnasium floor. Students had planned their cars down to the minutest detail, every bolt tightened just right. Their designs are flawless on paper—will it play out on the track? The cars take off. In one breathtaking moment, a photographer’s pole stopped a car from veering off the course as its competitors raced past. With consistent sub-6-second runs down the 20-yard track, the grand prize for the fastest car ultimately goes to Daniel Wright Middle School from Lincolnshire, Illinois. Trinity Junior High (Fort Smith, Arkansas) wins best design. Both teams also bring home $500 for their schools’ science departments.


Winner’s Circle 

The Hopkins Junior High team on their way to victory. From left: Dhruv Muley, Karthik Bharathala, Catherine Zeng, Brian Tseng.
The Hopkins Junior High team on their way to victory. From left: Dhruv Muley, Karthik Bharathala, Catherine Zeng, Brian Tseng.

Monday, April 30, 2012. The final round, the big day. It may not be the Olympics, but these competitors have spent their academic lifetime training. They run algorithms rather than laps and finish with their heads spinning rather than racing hearts. Today will crown a winner, and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu will judge the two championship matches himself. Two teams give it their all, but only one will win this tournament. A visual bonus biology question decides the high school match as Lexington High School from Lexington, Massachusetts defeats North Hollywood from California. For the middle school championship, Hopkins Junior High School from Fremont, California defeats Longfellow Middle School from Falls Church, Virginia. Click here for a full list of 2012 Competition Results.


U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu judges the championship matches.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu judges the championship matches.

Science, technology, engineering, and math, the so-called “STEM fields,” are critical to prepare U.S. students for high-tech jobs in research and industry. Advancements in these fields will continue to bring remarkable benefits to society. 

At the National Science Bowl Finals awards ceremony, Secretary Chu spoke to the more than 500 students and 100 teachers and coaches about the importance of science education to the nation’s economic and technological future. Chu stated, “These students represent the next generation of American innovators who will help to make sure America stays competitive in a rapidly advancing world.”


If you think you have what it takes to be a Science Bowl champ, check out this video and get involved in your regional competition. 

For more information, including video, team bios, and more on the Science Bowl format, visit http://science.energy.gov/nsb/ and follow NSB on facebook.

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