Ridge High School and Princeton Charter School win fierce contests to go to National Science Bowl®

Written by
Jeanne Jackson DeVoe
Feb. 26, 2020

The New Jersey Regional Science Bowl final contests Feb. 21 and 22 at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory were nail-biters to the end with Princeton Charter School and Ridge High School, of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, battling it out to win the right to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Science Bowl® in Washington, D.C. 

In the final rounds of the high school contest on Feb. 22, Ridge High School was tied with the undefeated High Technology High School, of Lincroft, New Jersey, at 96 points at the end of Round 12. The two teams then went to a second bonus round in which they once again tied at 108. In the third bonus round – or second overtime – Ridge scored four points to win the contest. 

“Hopefully all your heart rates have come down to normal!” said host Andrew Zwicker, head of PPPL’s Office of Communications and Public Outreach, before handing out the awards. “I just want to thank all of the teams! We started eight hours ago and just crowned the winner!”

It was the second win in a row for Ridge High School. A few of the team members have been competing since middle school and also won the middle school contest for the William Annin Middle School in 2016.  “That was really close!” said Kaivalya Hariharan, a senior, who is a team captain and has been coming to Science Bowl for seven years. “Every year the teams get better!”

High Technology High School won second place and Bergen County Academy, of Hackensack, New Jersey, won third place.

The winners from each competition will win an all-expense paid trip to the National Science Bowl® in Washington, D.C., from April 30 to May 5. The middle school team winner will compete against 49 other regional teams, while the high school champion will compete against 64 other 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/.

Bergen County Academy just revived its Science Bowl team this year after several years of not having one. “This is my first time doing this!” said Afnan Nuruzzaman, a senior. “It feels really rewarding because we’ve been studying for a long time and we’re actually doing really well.”

The Bergen County Academy’s coach Jonathan Pinyan was on the Bergen County Academy Team when it won the Science Bowl in 2003. He said he advises his students to relax and to take chances. Aimee Babbin, the High Tech Coach, had the same message for her team. “I always tell them relax and just have fun. That’s what I want them to do,” she said.

Hometown competitors

In the middle school contest, the two final contestants were once again the hometown competitors of John Witherspoon (JW) Middle School and Princeton Charter School. JW defeated the undefeated Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School in the ninth round before losing to Princeton Charter School in the 10th round, 140 to 36.

It was the third year Princeton Charter School won the contest against the same top competitors. JW won second place this year, with Bridgewater-Raritan coming in third. JW won second place in 2018 and defeated Princeton Charter in 2017.

“I think the secret is we’re such a small school so we all feel comfortable as a team,” said Justin Feder.

His brother, Brandon, said the competition was nerve-wracking. “I felt so nervous! I was more nervous than during my Bar Mitzvah!” he said.

40 volunteers

The two-day event is organized by Deedee Ortiz, program manager of PPPL’s Office of Science Education. Some 40 volunteers from throughout the Laboratory sacrifice work time and weekends to act as moderators, timekeepers, and judges.

Ortiz said she and the other volunteers enjoy seeing the students’ “brilliant minds at work.  
“The teams’ excitement is contagious and I end up rooting for every single kid that walks through that door,” she added. “I know that only one team can win, but I celebrate them all!”

Engineer Marc-Andre de Looz volunteered for the first time and he plans to do it again. “It was super fun,” he said. “I had a blast – it was really just such fun energy around the kids and to see kids so interested in science is really exciting!”

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.

PPPL is mastering the art of using plasma — the fourth state of matter — to solve some of the world's toughest science and technology challenges. Nestled on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, New Jersey, our research ignites innovation in a range of applications including fusion energy, nanoscale fabrication, quantum materials and devices, and sustainability science. The University manages the Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the nation’s single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences. Feel the heat at https://energy.gov/science and https://www.pppl.gov.