Catlin Gabel topples Westview at Regional Science Bowl
Their pencils were sharpened; their minds, sharper.
But only the buzzer can beat back the real foes: arcana like the boiling point of dichloromethane, those pesky positive integers with remainder four or the number of dwarf stars recognized by the International Astronomical Union.
Better think fast — there's five, four, three, two… one second left on the clock.
For the 50 teams of high schoolers at the 28th-annual Regional Science Bowl — hosted by the University of Portland on Saturday, Feb. 23 and sponsored by Bonneville Power Administration — it was hardly a head-scratcher. After all, they've been studying.
"If you're confident, then you buzz," explained Westview High School's Medha Prakash, a senior intent on a career in medicine.
Team captain Grant Chen, who plans to study computer science, added: "It's competitive… You get to see your skills."
The battle of the brains ended in an upset for the Beaverton School District, after Westview's shot at a six-year streak was shut down by Catlin Gabel in the final rounds. Catlin Gabel now moves on with an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the national competition.
Westview's teams took home both the second and third-place trophies. The seniors on all three winning teams are now eligible for more than $300,000 in scholarships at 18 different private colleges and public universities across Oregon and Washington.
"Teamwork is what led us to win the largest regional Science Bowl competition in the nation. Your team needs to communicate, know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and motivate each other," the Catlin Gabel team said in a statement. "It will truly be an honor to represent Oregon at the National Science Bowl in April!"
The gameshow-style tournament pits opposing teams of four students plus alternates in a rapid-fire question-and-answer competition, with up to 46 questions thrown at the pupils by a moderator in just 16 minutes. Buzz in first, (and answer correctly) to score four or 10 points. The team with the higher score moves up in the bracket.
Second-year Oregon State University chemical engineering major Kian Patel helped lead Portland's Lincoln High School team to a second-place berth in 2016. He still rues the question that cost him victory — and wonders how he could possibly confuse the properties of chloroformic, formic and propanoic acid.
This year, Patel coaches a team of students at Lincoln. "You can't win this by yourself," he said. "I've tried."
One of his players, senior Sameer Suri, focuses on answering physics and math questions. He says participating boosts his academic performance in the classroom, and opens up a whole world of new lines of inquiry.
"It helps you learn what you know, but you also learn what you don't know," he said.
The Regional Science Bowl for Oregon and Southwest Washington was founded by Walt Myers in 1992, at that time an R&D manager for Bonneville. Some 9,000 students have tested their knowledge since then, while thousands more have participated in a middle school league.
With major funding for the bowl provided to Bonneville Power Administration via the U.S. Department of Energy, the goal then and now is to prepare scholars for lucrative jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. Many of the volunteer timekeepers, scorekeepers and judges work at BPA or other area tech firms.
"For the volunteers, the pay is the excitement of seeing these kids pursuing their interest in science," Myers said. "The research of the future is embodied in the intellect we develop today."
It's also a lot of fun.
Lake Oswego High School senior Matthew Seely, who pens a student column for the Lake Oswego Review, says the curiosity factor makes science compelling. "It gives you answers," he noted.
Teammate Elena Lee is considering a career in astrophysics after finding out captivating facts about black holes and other far-out phenomena. She's fairly confident we'll be a space-faring civilization in her lifetime.
"It's very interesting to contemplate everything that's going on beyond us," she said, "especially when things get too complicated down here."