Like most teams preparing for a big competition, the 16 middle school teams and 32 high school teams coming to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) on Feb. 21 and 22 are drilling their hardest, discussing strategy, and getting pep talks from their coaches.
But these teams aren’t preparing for a baseball or basketball championship, they are preparing for a fierce battle of the minds in which teams answer challenging questions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in double-elimination rounds in the New Jersey Regional Science Bowl.
This will be the 27th year PPPL will host the Science Bowl, in which teams come from all over New Jersey, as well as New York and Pennsylvania to compete in the contest. They will be among some 9,000 high school students and 5,000 middle school students competing in 65 high school and 50 middle school regional Science Bowl tournaments nationwide.
“It’s wonderful every year to see students excited about science,” said Andrew Zwicker, head of Communications and Public Outreach at PPPL, who hosts the competition. “It’s amazing to watch a competitive level that is normally associated with sports applied to a science quiz competition.”
This year’s Science Bowl will include students from last year’s winning team, Ridge High School, as well as from rivals West Windsor-Plainsboro South High School, which lost to Ridge in the final rounds last year. West Windsor-Plainsboro South had been the champions from 2015 to 2017 until they were defeated by their neighboring rival West Windsor-Plainsboro North in 2018.
The team to beat in the middle school competition will be the Princeton Charter School team, which won for the second time in a row last year when it defeated Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School. Also vying with Princeton Charter will be last year’s third-place team, John Witherspoon (JW) Middle School, which is also from Princeton. JW has competed with Princeton Charter in the finals for the past three years, coming in third in 2019, second in 2018, and defeating Princeton Charter in 2017.
Deedee Ortiz, the Science Education program manager at PPPL, has also been preparing for months and has organized dozens of volunteers from PPPL who act as science judges, moderators, and timekeepers for the contest. “I have a ton of fun planning this event every year and I’m looking forward to the competition,” Ortiz said. “The day before the middle school regional is really exciting because the Lab is buzzing in anticipation of more than 100 brilliant kids visiting. It’s going to be a great New Jersey Regional Science Bowl in 2020!”
The winners from each competition will win an all-expense paid trip to the DOE’s 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®