Middle school and high school students from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania showed off their prodigious knowledge of science, technology and mathematics at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) Feb. 18-to-19. The DOE New Jersey Regional Science Bowl was PPPL’s biggest ever and was held online for the second year.
After a full day of challenging elimination rounds, J.P. Stevens High School from Edison, New Jersey, won the high school competition after a close contest in which there were two ties during one of the final elimination rounds. Community Middle School from Plainsboro, New Jersey, prevailed in the middle school contest. Both teams will compete in the National Science Bowl April 29 to May 2. The competitions are funded by the DOE’s Office of Science.
West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South came in second for the second year in a row, and Bridgewater-Raritan High School came in third. In the middle school contest, Princeton Charter School, which won the regional Science Bowl the last four years, came in second, and William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge came in third. The Academy of Greatness and Excellence middle school team in Ridgefield Park won the Spirit Award for displaying the best attitude.
“I’ve been blown away by the day. Everyone was fantastic,” said Steve Cowley, PPPL director, who volunteered as a moderator both days. Also participating were more than 30 PPPL’ers and more than 20 volunteers from the DOE and other institutions. “The best moments were when people consoled their teammates when everything didn’t go right,” said Cowley. “Congratulations to everybody and of course the winning team!”
Deedee Ortiz, Science Education program manager who organized the event with the help of the DOE’s National Science Bowl team, noted that hosting the event online meant that PPPL could accommodate all the teams that wanted to compete. That made the Science Bowl PPPL’s biggest ever, with 20 teams competing in the middle school competition and 38 teams competing in the high school contest, compared to the usual 16 middle school and 32 teams. “That was a silver lining of our virtual world,” she said.
Ortiz said she always admires the effort put out by the students. “The real VIPs are the students and their coaches who work so hard during the entire school year, and sometimes summer, to prepare for this competition,” she said. “This is always one of the most rewarding programs for me since we get to see the students doing what they love — science! It was an incredible weekend and I can't wait until we're back in person with everyone.”
Arturo Dominguez, head of Science Education, served as master of ceremonies. “This has been an excellent day with lots of tough questions, as always, but lots of energy and lots of smart high schoolers today,” he said after the high school contest. “ We look forward to seeing you at the Lab in the future, now go and represent New Jersey!”
A first-time competitor wins middle school contest
Community Middle School competed for the first time this year. “I’m very, very happy,” said Coach Subella Augustine. “This is the first time they’re competing. They have such passion and talent in science and math – all the credit goes to the kids.”
Aldric Benalan, an eighth grader, organized the team. “The idea of Science Bowl, the buzzer-based format and the topics were all interesting,” he said. “It was very competitive. There were a lot of teams and the questions weren’t easy!”
Tijil Kiran, a senior at the winning J.P. Stevens High School, was already looking to the national competition. “We still have a long way to go, I would say. We have a lot of preparation to do. To cap this off in my senior year is amazing!”
Gary DiFilippo, J.P. Stevens’ coach, said he was proud of the team, which he has coached for the past seven years. “Watching them today, the key to their success is they were always talking things through,” he said. “They were showing all those elements that make a great scientist, which as a teacher is so great to see!”
Some students who competed in past science bowls at PPPL said they miss the live head-to-head competition in which students buzz in with their answers. Others said they enjoy being able to confer with each other and answer all 18 questions in each round. “Everyone likes the atmosphere of the PPPL competition,” said Samuel Whitney, a member of the Princeton High School team. “A lot of what was different this time is you have no idea of what’s going on with other teams,” he said. “It’s a bit more nerve-wracking in that sense, but the general idea of Science Bowl is there.”
Appreciation for online contest
Albert Zhu, an eighth-grader on the Princeton Charter School team, said he enjoyed the competition. “I thought it was really fun – I got to learn a lot of new things,” he said. Although the team practiced with the buzzer system, he said he preferred the online version. “I think I like the remote version more because you get to speak to your teammates and it’s a group effort,” he said.
Princeton High School South *Coach Shefali Mehta said the students get a lot from interacting with fellow team members. “They’re making friends,” she said. “They really enjoy being around each other – they’re always goofing around and laughing with each other. It’s an extension of stuff they already enjoy studying.”
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 single largest 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, visit energy.gov/science.
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 single largest 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, visit https://energy.gov/science