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The best and the brightest

Five Scappoose High School science and math wizards will compete with students from Oregon and Washington next month in the Science Bowl at Portland State University.
by: Gini Bramlett, Facing from left to right are Scappoose High School students Angus Toland, Johnny Dutra and Jared Graham. In the foreground are (left to right) Joe Anderson and James Rogers. The five seniors have practice sessions after school to learn how to respond to science and math questions using electronic beepers that are similar to those at the science bowl competition on Feb. 2 at Portland State University.

Question 1: Three capacitors, each rated at one microfarads, are connected in series. What is the total capacitance, in microfarads, rounded to the second decimal place?

Question 2: Which of the following is NOT an example of a programming language?

A. Pascal

B. Bios

C. Cobol

D. Fortran

The questions are tough -- real tough -- and beyond all but the most serious science and math buffs. Fortunately, Scappoose High School has produced at least five seniors who not only have the ability, but relish the challenge.

The students will be testing their academic mettle by answering science- and math-related questions like the examples above, at the Bonneville Power Administration Science Bowl on Feb. 2 at Portland State University. Jared Graham, Johnny Dutra, Angus Toland, Joe Anderson and James Rogers are definitely not your average high school seniors. They excel in the sciences and math and all are taking advanced placement classes in physics, calculus and chemistry.

The top-three winning teams at the Science Bowl will receive various scholarships from 15 schools such as Gonzaga University in Washington, Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, and the University of Oregon. The five young men aren't really in it for the money, but they do want to win.

The heat of competition and the fun is what attracts them. 'All these kids are interspersed with kids that really don't care about science, and this is a chance to be around other kids like them,' said Rebecca Steinke, group advisor. 'There's really not a lot of opportunity for smart high-end kids to talk with other like-minded kids. They can come in here and be right or wrong. It's just the pursuit of learning they like. I've had them in classes and their eyes just don't light up like they do here.'

The group tries to meet twice a week after school, but missed a couple of weeks while the student body adjusted to the integration of the Vernonia students. Still, they don't feel they've lost ground.

If you've ever watched College Bowl on PBS, then you have some idea of how Science Bowl works. Two teams of four students, using electronic beepers, compete by answering questions in a quiz show-type format to earn points. The first one to beep in gets to answer the question first. 'Some of the questions can be long and complicated,' said Steinke.

Being good at competing at this level isn't only about academic achievement. According the Steinke, being on the team takes nerve and the ability to think fast on your feet. Most of the students who show up at the first meeting never come back after they hear the first sample question. Others who hang on a week or two are intimidated and find it frustrating not knowing the answers. And, some simply can't swing the additional burden on their already too busy schedules. 'Some kids that take AP can't deal with the load,' said Steinke. 'It gets whittled down to the ones who can mentally take the pressure and are comfortable when they're wrong.'

. According to Dutra, it's an opportunity to challenge himself in the subjects that he loves. Graham just enjoys the competitiveness. 'It gives me the opportunity to put myself to the test with kids around the state and with kids I'll be going against in college,' said Graham, who's been competing in Science Bowl since middle school.

Questions come from seven disciplines: general science, math, physics, biology, astronomy, earth science and chemistry. Knowing exactly what to study is another challenge. Steinke ferrets out recommended books from various sources and offers them to the team. Just the fact they are all in AP classes helps a lot. The Science Bowl also supplies a list of sample questions to help give students some idea of what to expect, and their Web site lists past questions. 'They watch a lot of science television,' said Steinke. 'I'm not kidding. Jared is addicted to the science channel.'

So, it comes down to the desire and the guts to compete against the best and brightest science and math buffs on 64 teams from Oregon and Washington. The top three teams earn the right to compete at the national competition in Washington, D.C., in the spring.

Answers to:

Question 1: 0.33 microfarads

Question 2: B. (Bios)