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Shenendehowa team headed to National Science Bowl

Saturday, March 1, 2014
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BRAIN POWER


The Shenendehowa team competed in the National Science Bowl on Saturday. From left: Phil Sun, 16, Matt McGuffey, 17, Harry Newman-Plotnick, 16, and David Luo, 17. Sub Brian Amaratunga, 17,  is not pictured but participated.
The Shenendehowa team competed in the National Science Bowl on Saturday. From left: Phil Sun, 16, Matt McGuffey, 17, Harry Newman-Plotnick, 16, and David Luo, 17. Sub Brian Amaratunga, 17, is not pictured but participated.

— As halftime was called, Niskayuna and Shenendehowa high school players breathed sighs of relief and stretched their legs. They sipped water and huddled with their coaches.

Two minutes later, the moderator wanted to know if they were ready to get back at it. Heads down, pencils poised, they nodded their heads yes.

“All right, the subject is logic,” the moderator said, before firing off a dizzying question about statements and conclusions.

Shen buzzed in with the correct answer, and got a question about math next. The next few questions were a blur. Shen answered a physics question about inertia and torque and then tackled density and immersed volume. Niskayuna fielded questions on the hormones released by the pituitary gland, half-lifes and bonds. Shen was back at it, buzzing in with answers to questions about positive integers and quantum numbers.

Before the moderator realized it, Shen had racked up enough points to be named the winner of the regional qualifying tournament for the National Science Bowl next month in Washington, D.C. The high school will represent the Capital Region in the annual U.S. Department of Energy competition from April 24-28. Van Antwerp Middle School, of Niskayuna, also won first place in the middle-school competition and will compete at the nation’s capital next month.

Thirty teams of both middle- and high-school students from 22 area school districts participated in the regional competition at GE Global Research in Niskayuna on Saturday.

Scott Price, a GE physicist who has organized the local tournament for the last three years, wasn’t kidding when he said these kids will impress.

“You really have to be a specialist in this stuff or, when you go in there and listen to these kids, you’ll be mystified,” he said just moments before the final qualifying competition kicked off.

GE spokeswoman Chris Horne likened the competition to a sporting event, as it’s known for its intensity and fast-pace question-and-answer format. Students start preparing at the beginning of the school year and some practice every day until the tournament.

“For many of these students, this is their sports field,” she said Saturday from inside GE’s Global Research facility. “It’s an environment where they can showcase their abilities and talents, and when you think about it, it’s a natural fit for GE to host this. We love the opportunity to get kids interested in science and math and engineering. They’re our future pipeline.”

Now in its 19th year, the regional Science Bowl is co-sponsored by GE Global Research, Bechtel and the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory NOVA Society, who contributed more than 80 volunteers to help moderate, keep time, score, judge and organize the competition this year.

Dr. Douglas North, head of school at The Albany Academies, showed up Saturday to cheer on his school’s team. The highly competitive vibe of the competition has helped glamorize science in ways that classroom learning simply cannot.

“And it’s increased the number of kids who participate,” he said.

Albany Academies junior Alexandra Iankoulska got her school involved last year as a way to increase extracurricular opportunities for kids who prefer science to sports. While she likes the competitive atmosphere, she admitted it can get cutthroat at times.

“It depends on the school,” she said. “Some teams are really committed and they even have dedicated classes for this competition. Other teams are more relaxed.”

Ankit Baghel, a fellow junior and team member at this year’s bowl, said the competition is all part of the fun. “It’s competitive, yes,” he said. “But it’s easy to have fun with it as well. There’s not much fun in learning if you don’t enjoy it, right?”

 
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