A Glimpse at the Regional Science Bowls


An audience looks on in an auditorium as students sit at the front of the room at tables competing in the Science Bowl regionalsPhoto credit: Abigail Pillitteri

Teams compete at the New Jersey Regional Science Bowl in the auditorium at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

Kids love competition. They jump for opportunities to use their talents and make their parents proud. Some excel in mathematics and science, but you don't see many fans in the classroom on test days. So where can all the science buffs shine?

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama insisted, "It's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the Science Fair." It is in this spirit that the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science sponsors the National Science Bowl (NSB). This mentally-invigorating competition begins with regional events across the United States.

Regional events take place during the early months of the calendar year for students in two separate educational levels: middle school and high school. Teams compete one-on-one in a series of rounds, answering science questions from physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, earth sciences, and mathematics. The first place team from each regional competition will advance to compete in the final competition in Washington, D.C., at the National Building Museum on May 2, 2011.

One of the regional competitions was the New Jersey Middle School Science Bowl, hosted by Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) on February 25th, 2011. After weeks of practice, 15 teams arrived at PPPL with their thinking caps and game faces on.


A group of students and their coach pose with their medals and trophiesPhoto credit: Courtney Washington

Glenfield Middle School students, winners of the tower building engineering challenge at PPPL.

The teams competed through 11 fast-paced, tournament-style rounds. A large screen above the heads of the two competing teams in each round showed their scores during the competition. When a question was asked, the two eager teams raced to "buzz in" to be the first to answer. A correct answer earned four points plus a chance at a bonus question worth an extra ten points, and of course some high-fives between teammates.

In a separate room, teams took part in the tower building engineering challenge. Teams competed to build the tallest tower that could stand for 30 seconds using 2 pieces of clay and a boxful of toothpicks. The winning team in this element was Glenfield Middle School from Montclair, N.J., with a tower standing 24 ½ inches tall. Their coach, Courtney Washington, was beaming. "The kids worked together to come up with a strategy. They each built different sections of the tower. Then, they put it together to form their final structure. They were thrilled to be a part of the event!" She was delighted that her students were able to show their problem-solving skills. She also spoke highly of the NSB as a great opportunity for students to use their academic talents: "It's such a good experience for the kids."

A group of 5 students and their coach pose for the camera Photo credit: Abigail Pillitteri

Witherspoon Middle School Team A at PPPL

Coaches and coordinators alike were impressed with the students' energy and genuine passion for science. The competition was coordinated by James Morgan, a veteran member of the NSB advisory committee. Morgan has dedicated 15 years to working with bright young people in the NSB. "Watching the kids play is so inspiring," Morgan said, with a smile. "It has been such a rewarding experience."

Bill Merritt, a first-time coach of two Witherspoon Middle School teams, added, "I have a dozen kids that want to learn. I don't have to push them. They push themselves." In fact, his students spent three extra days outside of their scheduled practice time preparing for the regional event. They took it upon themselves to make up quiz questions for each other, modeled after the practice questions provided by DOE.

The students themselves were excited to finally put their knowledge to the test. "We love the Science Bowl. We love science!" chanted members of Witherspoon Middle School Team A. They all agreed that they'd like to continue participating in the Science Bowl upon entering high school.

A group of students and their coach pose with their trophies and medals while holding a banner that reads US Dept of Energy National Science Bowl Regional Winning Team Photo credit: Elle Starkman

First place winners of the NJ Middle School Regional Science Bowl: Thomas Grover Middle School.

At the end of the day, the winning team at PPPL was Thomas Grover Middle School from West Windsor, N.J. Their coach, Rae McKenna, said, "The boys and I have worked really hard to get where we are. We practice every week, reading science books, making up questions for one another, and using the buzzer system. I love doing the club, and as a volunteer, it makes me so proud that my guys have won. They loved every minute of it and look forward to going to finals!"

To learn more about the NSB, visit the NSB website. Be sure to check out the latest news for recent updates. Also, find the NSB on Facebook under the title Official National Science Bowl.

For more information on the DOE Office of Science, please go to: http://www.science.energy.gov/.

This article was written by Abigail Pillitteri, a writer for the Office of Science.