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West Windsor-Plainsboro South wins U.S. Department of Energy’s N.J. Regional High School Science Bowl at PPPL for third consecutive year

Princeton’s John Witherspoon Middle School wins middle school science competition

Two Princeton-area teams will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in the National Science Bowl® finals after winning the regional middle school and high school competitions at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) New Jersey Science Bowl® at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) Feb. 24 to 25.

The West Windsor-Plainsboro South Science Bowl team won its third victory in a row at the high school contest on Saturday, Feb. 25. The team was undefeated in 12 rounds of competition at this year’s competition. Thirty-two teams from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware competed by answering challenging questions in timed rounds in science, technology and mathematics in a quiz-show type double elimination format.

“I’ve got to tell you what a thrill it is to see so may people here with the same enthusiasm and effort we see for our sports teams,” said Andrew Zwicker, head of PPPL’s Communications and Public Outreach Department. 

The winning team, along with the John Witherspoon Middle School team, of Princeton, which won the Middle School tournament on Friday, Feb. 24, will have all expenses paid for the National Science Bowl® April 27 to May 1 in Washington, DC. They will compete with 69 other high school and 49 other middle school regional teams. The DOE’s Office of Science manages the National Science Bowl®, and sponsors the finals competition. More information is available on the NSB website: http://www.science.energy.gov/wdts/nsb/

Approximately 14,000 high schoolers and middle schoolers compete in 70 high school and 50 middle school regional Science Bowl tournaments across the country.

West Windsor-Plainsboro South won the final round of the competition 104 to 76 against the Bridgewater-Raritan High School team, which came in second. The Ridge team from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, came in third place.

The West-Windsor team tied with Ridge in the first half of the 10th round but pulled ahead in the second half. “We’re excited,” said Eric Liu, one of the winning team members. “We were down but we were confident we were going to come back.”

The team captain, Tanishq Aggarwal, is an intern in PPPL’s Science Education Department. “I learned a lot more about fusion energy, so that helped me in previous rounds,” Aggarwal said.

John Witherspoon and Princeton Charter School in final match.

In the middle school contest, two Princeton teams competed in the final rounds to win the tournament.  The John Witherspoon (JW) Middle School team won the competition on Friday, Feb. 24, in the 11th round. It beat the Princeton Charter School team, which placed second.

The team won after going into the 10th round undefeated, and being beaten by the Princeton Charter School in a close contest 114 to 90. In the final round, the JW team won 188 to 72.

The team will join West Windsor-Plainsboro South High School at the National Science Bowl® in Washington, D.C., April 27 to May 1.

“It was really exciting,” said JW team captain Brian Zhang. “I was hoping we might be able to win. 

Sixteen teams from all over New Jersey competed in the middle school version of the game-show-style double-elimination format contest.

The three top teams were also the three top teams last year. JW came in third last year, while the Charter School team also came in second last year. Third-place winner William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, came in first last year.

“It was very close,” said JW Coach William Merritt. “I thought we had it and then we lost and then they came back and never let up.” Merritt said he is already looking ahead to the Nationals, which JW attended in 2015. “I’m thinking about DC already. I’m thinking about April. We have a lot of work to do before then.”

Some 50 PPPL scientists, engineers and staff members volunteer for the two-day event as science moderators, judges, timekeepers and helpers. Many of the volunteers have been coming to the Science Bowl for years. Engineer Irving Zatz has been volunteering for 20 years. “I’m always impressed by how well-prepared and how smart they are, how quick too,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been coming back for 20 years because it’s such a thrill.” 

“It’s amazing to see how excited these kids are about science and if all we do is facilitate a fun competition to keep their momentum going, then we will keep making sure that happens,” said Deedee Ortiz, the program administrator of PPPL’s Science Education Department. “They are incredibly smart and if we can give them a chance to see a national laboratory then maybe someday some of those kids will be here working to make the world a better place.” 

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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