From April 27 through May 1, 48 middle school and 63 high school teams traveled across the nation to Washington, D.C., in order to compete in the 2017 Department of Energy National Science Bowl. Teams first competed at regional competitions in order to qualify for the event, and over 14,000 students nationwide attended regional competitions.
“Launched in 1991, the National Science Bowl® (NSB) is a highly competitive science education and academic event among teams of high school and middle school students who compete in a fast-paced verbal forum to solve technical problems and answer questions in all branches of science and math. Each team is composed of four students, one alternate student, and a coach. Regional and national events encourage student involvement in math and science activities of importance to the Department of Energy and the Nation.” (Source: https://science.energy.gov/wdts/nsb/about/)
2017 Science Bowl Results
In the middle school division (grades 6-8), Joaquin Miller Middle School and Odle Middle School played in the final round. Two matches were played to decide the winner, Joaquin Miller Middle School. Odle Middle School placed second and Quail Valley Middle School placed third. Odle’s team was comprised of David Lee, Daniel Sun, Emily Feng, Mahathi Mangipudi, and Neil Chowdhury, the author.
In the high school division (grades 9-12), Lexington High School and the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology played in the final round. One match was played to decide the winner, Lexington High School. Thomas Jefferson High School placed second and Dougherty Valley High School placed third.
How Science Bowl Works
Each match in Science Bowl is a set of 25 questions in various topics answered over the course of 20 minutes. On each toss-up question, either team may answer. Whichever team member buzzes in first has the first opportunity to answer, and if s/he answers correctly, the team scores 4 points and his/her team gets to answer the bonus question. If s/he answers incorrectly, the other team has the remainder of the time to buzz in and answer the question. Only the team that answered the toss-up question correctly may answer the bonus question, where a team is given 20 seconds to work together and come up with the correct answer. After the bonus question, the next toss-up question in the sequence is read and both teams may answer again.
Teams start in a Round Robin competition where they are paired with six other teams in one grouping. Each team plays every other team once. The two teams in the grouping with the greatest number of wins move on to the Double Elimination competition, and receive a prize of $1000 for their schools. Since there are 8 groupings in total, 16 teams move on to Double Elimination.
In the Double Elimination competition, once a team loses two games, they are out of the competition. Teams keep playing other teams until two teams remain in the competition.
The questions are increasingly more difficult and the speed of buzzing in for questions matters much more in the later rounds; competitors’ hands can be seen red and shaking as they grasp the buzzer. “There were definitely stressful times during the competition; the key was to tap into that stress and use it as a sort of inner motivation. During the final rounds of Double Elimination, every question was essential to winning. Stress served almost as a focusing mechanism for us–as soon as we were put under immense pressure, it was like there was switch that flipped on our concentration,” said Washington State team member Emily Feng.
Mahathi Mangipudi, another member from Odle, said that “[her] favorite part about Science Bowl is when the round starts and you hear a question on your favorite subject and you suddenly zone in on the question. During the round your sympathetic nervous system is working overtime, your heart is pounding and you can feel the adrenaline rush. Your thumb poised on the buzzer ready press down as soon as you have the answer on your head. It’s my favorite part because you’re all fired up to answer the question.”
Outside the Competition
However, it was much more relaxed outside of the competition. “I would like to take back the figurative atmosphere surrounding the competition (not the hot, humid one). As you first enter D.C. a surreal feeling comes abut you and it inspires you to work harder. At the 4-H center, it’s friendly and welcoming, and you’re able to connect with kids all over the U.S that share similar interests with you,” said Mahathi.
“The best part of our trip was getting to experience the culture and atmosphere of a competition wherein everyone had worked extremely hard to get there. The energy we observed from other teams was infectious–as soon as I stepped into the competition center, I was swept into everyone’s passion and drive for learning,” said Emily.
Daniel Sun agreed with his teammates. “My favorite part about the science bowl competition was probably the huge array of people I met at D.C. All these people share an interest in science, and since they came from every part of America, meeting them was a very fun experience.”
There was also a side competition called the Cyber Challenge. In this competition, teams work together to solve questions about cybersecurity and score points for correct answers. Each team uses two computers and try to write code or use online tools to answer questions.
Personally, I felt like the food was one of the best things about the competition. Besides being served unlimited ginger ale and Hershey’s chocolate bars, the lunch and dinners were divine. There was always a few different types of soup in the 4-H conference center, as well as sirloin steak, or stuffed eggplants, or rice and chicken, or bottomless French fries, or grilled mushrooms…the list just goes on.
On the night of April 27th, we took a night bus tour to several national monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and several others across the Washington Mall. In the day, we also visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and analyzed several dazzling minerals, including the Hope Diamond.
The Final Matches
The final matches for middle school and high school were played on stage in the Litzner Auditorium of the George Washington University. They were streamed online and will be posted soon on YouTube.
Mahathi said that “the most stressful time for me this year was performing on the stage. You and your team are sitting up on the stage, all the participants from the competition are intently watching and all your friends and family are eagerly waiting at home. I want to be able to interrupt and answer questions to rack up points, but there is shadow of doubt hanging on your shoulder. I know the answer is correct, but what if I made a tiny miscalculation. You can’t risk an interrupt incorrect, but you can’t afford to wait until after the question.”
For more information about the event, please visit https://science.energy.gov/wdts/nsb/.