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May 11, 2010 > Fremont students compete in National Science Bowl

Fremont students compete in National Science Bowl

By Miriam G. Mazliach

Two teams of local students recently returned from Washington, D.C., after an exciting competition where they represented their respective schools and the city of Fremont at the National Science Bowl.

Hopkins Junior High, last year's first place winner, earned third place this year and although Mission San Jose High didn't place, they enjoyed the experience nevertheless.

The 20th annual National Science Bowl is sponsored by the United States Department of Energy. First begun in 1991, hundreds of middle school and high school teams now compete to represent their school and region at this prestigious event. The Middle School component of the National Science Bowl was added in 2002, and includes an academic math and science competition as well as a model car event where the teams design, build and race their model cars.

During the academic competition, teams of middle school students and high school students are pitted against one another in a rapid verbal race. Each team is comprised of four students and one alternate, who in similar "Jeopardy buzzer" fashion, must respond quickly to solve and answer difficult problems on a wide variety of math and science topics.

Both Hopkins and the Mission San Jose teams qualified for the National Science Bowl by winning their regional contests, held in Livermore at the end of January. They received all-expense paid trips to the competition in Washington, D.C., which was held April 29 through May 4.

Coach of the Hopkins team and Honors Science teacher, Paul Ricks, PhD., explained the selection process for joining the Hopkins Science Bowl team. "All students who were interested came to the open tryouts. There was an oral test on a wide range of math and science topics. The top 40 students went on to compete in a series of rounds. The top 20 were then divided into 4 teams to compete," said Ricks. "The top seeded teams played each other until a number one seeded team was determined. The two top seeded teams went to the Regional competition."

The Hopkins team that won at the Regionals and went on to compete in the National tournament were Krishna Bharathala, Lewis Chen, Raghu Dhara, Hemang Jangle, and Rohan Mathuria and their coach, Paul Ricks.

Commenting on the team's third place national finish, Team Captain Raghu Dhara said, "Well, the team prepared, studied and tried hard, but we didn't anticipate the difficulty of the competition."

"Yes, each year the questions get more challenging and there are more charter and Science magnet schools now participating, so it is getting more competitive," explained Ricks.

"We did really well and prepared a lot for the competition," said Krishna Bharanthala. "In the final match against Gale Ranch of San Ramon, it was really close by one question and could have gone either way."

A highlight of the tournament was getting a glimpse of Mrs. Obama, the President's wife, although they didn't get a chance to meet her. Mrs. Obama read some of the Science questions to the middle school finalists and shook hands onstage with the first place team.

Hemang Jangle was the only 7th grader on the team. "Competing in a tournament is fun because you never know what's going to happen next. You have to listen and pay attention and it's great to meet new people and see different places."

Besides enjoying the entire Science Bowl experience, many of the teams got to take home impressive trips, prizes and trophies.

Each of the top eight middle schools received a trophy, $1,000 for their school; and the top three middle school teams also received a Nspire calculator.

"I joke with my students that I'm hopeful one of them gets the Nobel Prize so they can give me stock in their companies and I can retire in the manner I deserve," said Ricks.

On the high school level, Mission San Jose's Science Bowl team was made up of freshmen and sophomores, who realized that it was going to be a difficult competition for them, being one of the youngest high school teams at the event.

Participating were Adi Jung, Mo Luo, Jo Melville, Siddarth Sen, Margaret Shen, and their coach teacher, Julie Luikart.

Earlier in the year, Mission San Jose High had also held trials for students who were interested in joining the Science Bowl team. Those who performed best were grouped into three teams of five students each. The top two teams went to the Regionals where Team B came in first and was invited to compete at the National event.

"The best teams came from all across the country to participate in the Science Bowl," said team Co-captain Jo Melville.

While there, students did have a chance to experience the flavor and sights of Washington, D.C. They were able to go on a tour of the city, the Capitol, and to visit several museums.

At the tournament, there were division team challenges. Each division was named after a famous historical person or scientist, for example, Einstein for Physics.

"On Sunday we had a "Round Robin," added the other team Co-captain Adi Jung, "We played seven other teams, 10 rounds with breaks. The top two moved on to double elimination in the evening. If you lose twice you don't move on. You keep going until you win or lose."

The Mission San Jose High team didn't place in the competition. "We were in the same division as the team that eventually won," said Jung. "We started off strong, but were feeling jet-lagged and only lost by two questions or 30 points. Some things we could have done better."

"We're really a young team; we were underwhelming but we still have two - three more years left to compete," said Melville.

"Now that we've been there we know what it's like. Going this year was good experience and we'll know how to improve for next time," commented Siddarth Sen.

2010 National Science Bowl Results:

Middle School:
1. Albuquerque Academy - Albuquerque, New Mexico
2. Gale Ranch Middle School - San Ramon, California
3. Hopkins Junior High - Fremont, California
4. Marshall Middle School - Wexford, Pennsylvania
Civility Award for Outstanding Sportsmanship: Also won by Marshall Middle School of Wexford, Pennsylvania.

High School:
1. North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics - Durham, North Carolina
2. Mira Loma High School - Sacramento, California
3. North Hollywood High School - North Hollywood, California
4. Arcadia High School - Arcadia, California

Civility Award for Outstanding Sportsmanship: The Greater Sioux Falls Home School Association - Sioux Falls, South Dakota

National Science Bowl: http://www.scied.science.doe.gov/nsb/default.htm.
DOE's Office of Science: www.science.doe.gov.

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