News Release

Release Date: February 26, 2018

The U.S. Department of Energy Sponsors a "Competition Like No Other"


Nine thousand high school students, more than four thousand middle school students, and thousands and thousands of volunteers have come together to put on a competition like no other since 1991. The U.S. Department of Energy manages and sponsors the National Science Bowl, a nationwide academic competition that tests students’ knowledge in all areas of science and mathematics, each year in Washington, D.C. during the month of April.

The competition is a culmination of hard work from teachers, coaches, and students from across the country to volunteers, organizers, and sponsors who put together the qualifying rounds that feed winners into the big show. Qualifying rounds for the Jeopardy-style competition are held in all 50 states, in Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, making the National Science Bowl one of the largest science competitions in the nation.

Middle and high school students create teams of four members with one alternate accompanied by a coach. These students train with their coaches for months before the regional competitions begin. These competitions are usually held from January through March nationwide. There are example questions on the National Science Bowl website that help the students prepare for the areas of focus in biology, chemistry, earth and space science, energy, math, and physics.

What does it take to compete?


  • Teams are made up of four members and one alternate.
  • Teams go to regional competitions to qualify for the NSB
  • moderators read a “toss up” question worth four points
  • The team that buzzes in and answers correctly gets a chance for a bonus question worth ten points
  • Guidelines include blurting out answers, hesitating when buzzing in, distracting other teams, etc. The opposite team will be awarded points if these rules are broken
  • the team with the most points at the end of the round wins and then moves on to the next round until the winner of the Regional Competition is named.

NETL puts together both the Southwestern Pennsylvania Science Bowl and West Virginia Science Bowl regional competitions. Educational outreach is an important part of the Lab’s mission, especially when it comes to encouraging students to be interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

It takes a lot of effort to coordinate and organize the competitions, especially for NETL’s two volunteer coordinators, one in Pittsburgh and one in Morgantown.

Alicia DelMastro, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Science Bowl Co-coordinator said, “I believe in the Science Bowl because it gives students who are academically advanced a chance to shine in a competition setting.”

These coordinators send out letters to schools, universities, and big employers all over their regions to get volunteer participation.

“We try to reach out to organizations that are science and STEM related and that also are interested in helping to promote that education to kids,” said Ken Mechling, Coordinator for the Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia Science Bowl competitions. “In Pennsylvania and West Virginia, we focus our volunteer solicitation efforts on professionals from NETL and local science and engineering organizations because of their technical expertise. We also coordinate with educational institutions like WVU and Carnegie Mellon because they’re all about STEM and science education.”

Being a volunteer can be a commitment. The competitions often span two days for multiple hours. In each competition room, there are four to five important positions. These are the moderator, science judge, timer, score keeper, and at the West Virginia competition there is also a rules judge. These positions need a certain level of training. Coordinators provide multiple opportunities for training, both in the community and at the NETL sites.

“The volunteers have a great time,” Mechling said. “They can request what rooms they want to be in. It’s often a nice opportunity for them to even see colleagues they don’t see throughout the year. We try to have a good time. The competitions are serious, but we want to make sure the kids get to laugh a little bit and we want to make it fun for the volunteers.”

Community College of Allegheny County is the co-host for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Regional event, while West Virginia University co-hosts the West Virginia Regional Competition. These competitions are just two of 120 regional competitions across the country.

65 high school and 50 middle school Regional Competition winners will head to the 2018 National Science Bowl Finals in Washington, D.C. this April 26 through 30.