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Colorado School Headed to Science Super Bowl

Fri, 02/11/2011 - 11:27am
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Photo of a team of young men in blue jackets with the NREL logo holding a trophy over their heads. Enlarge image

The Fairview High School Science Bowl team (left to right) Nicolas Le Dru, Karun Kumar Rao, Charles Xu, Tammy Hearty (coach), Chris Guthrie and William Conway hold up their trophy and celebrate after winning the 2011 Regional DOE Science Bowl held at Dakota Ridge High School.

Credit: Dennis Schroeder

Photo of three teens sharing a high-five. Enlarge image

Sara Volz, center, shares a high five with Cheyenne Mountain High School teammates, Nicholas Fouss, left and Alex Corona, right, after winning their match in the round robin competition.

Credit: Dennis Schroeder

Photo of a man in front of a row of students pointing. Enlarge image

NREL Associate Laboratory Director Bob Hawsey, a volunteer moderator, reads questions to teams at the Colorado Science Bowl. NREL and DOE hope the participation in the event will encourage teens to pursue careers in math and science.

Credit: Dennis Schroeder

Photo of a student looking at another student in a classroom setting. Enlarge image

Fairview High School Science Bowl team captain Charles Xu listens as his team's answer is challenged by last year's Science Bowl winners Peak to Peak High School during the sweet 16 round. Peak to Peak lost the challenge and Fairview went on to win the Colorado Science Bowl.

Credit: Dennis Schroeder

It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child. When it comes to fostering the hopes of America's budding scientists, the national laboratories can be a big part of that village. For more than two decades, the U.S. Department of Energy, its Golden Field Office, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have been actively encouraging high school students to stretch their knowledge of math and science through the Colorado Science Bowl.

"It is amazing to see the high caliber of students that this event attracts every year," NREL Education Program Coordinator Linda Lung said. "What has been more exciting is seeing science bowl students participating in DOE's undergraduate research programs at NREL, and even coming to work at NREL after they receive degrees. Also, these past interns now participate as judges for the Science Bowl."

Fairview Grabs Its First Colorado Title

This year, a team from Fairview High School (Boulder, Colo.) soundly overcame challenger Cheyenne Mountain High School (Colorado Springs) by a score of 106 to 70 after correctly answering rapid-fire questions in physics, math, biology, astronomy, chemistry, anthropology and earth sciences.

Victory was particularly sweet for team captain and high school senior Charles Xu. "I have a pretty extreme competitive streak. One thing that really got me wanting to win was that in the three previous years that I've done Science Bowl, we've never won a regional title outright. Three years ago, we went to the national competition when the first place team could not go — the satisfaction of winning one officially, with no cloud of doubt is a big impetus."

That competitive nature may have also played a hand in the team's preparation strategy.

"We did a ton of practicing — three hours a week — and then we ramped it up right before the competition," Xu said.  "Math is a great strength of our team, but we also have a lot of people who are really fast on the buzzer."

Members of the winning Fairview High School team will start their journey for the national title in Washington, D.C. on April 28.

More than 15,000 students across the U.S. will vie for a trip to D.C. to compete at the National Science Bowl.  Only 520 make it. Even the students who don't earn a trip to the finals agree that competing in the Science Bowl bolsters their understanding of the sciences. 

"I can honestly say that I have learned so much in biology and chemistry because I have had to study for the Science Bowl," Sara Volz, a 10th grader with Cheyenne Mountain High School. "I feel good when I can buzz in and say, 'I totally know that'."

That's high praise considering that in the 9th grade, Volz competed in the International Science and Engineering Fair with a project titled, "Enhancing Algae Biofuels: The Effects of Nitrogen Limitation and CO2 Infusion on the Oil Yields of Nannochloropsis oculata."  

Volz also noted that she's hoping to one day secure a college internship at NREL in bioenergy. It's this cycle of participation and future employment that NREL and DOE hope the Science Bowl competitions will foster.

"There's more to learning about science and engineering than you see on the 'Big Bang Theory,'" NREL  Associate Laboratory Director Bob Hawsey added. "These students really rock, and NREL is focused on helping to nurture the best and the brightest of these, some of whom will be our future employees."

NREL Volunteers Don't Mind the 'Work'

It's seeing young women like Volz engaged in the sciences that inspires the NREL volunteer Katie Gaston, a chemical engineer in NREL's Thermochemical Pilot Plant. "I like to see the kids so excited about science. As a female engineer, I also like to set a good example for the students."

Colorado teams that survived the morning competitions and advanced to the afternoon double-elimination contests were:

  • Arapahoe High School Team 1 (Centennial)
  • Cherokee Trail High School Teams 1 & 2 (Aurora)
  • Cherry Creek High School Teams 1 (Greenwood Village)
  • Cheyenne Mountain High School Team 1 (Colorado Springs)
  • Coronado High School (Colorado Springs)
  • Dakota Ridge High School Team 2 (Littleton)
  • D'Evelyn Senior High School Team 1 (Denver)
  • Douglas Country High School (Castle Rock)
  • Fairview High School Team 1 (Boulder)
  • Lakewood High School Team 1 (Lakewood)
  • Peak to Peak Charter School (Lafayette)
  • Pueblo Centennial High School Team 1 (Pueblo)
  • Rock Canyon High School (Highlands Ranch)
  • Smoky Hill High School Teams 1 & 2 (Aurora)

The Colorado Science Bowl is a large undertaking for NREL staff. It takes nearly 70 volunteers to run the competition on the day of the event, and many staffers return year after year. "This is something I enjoyed so much that I couldn't imagine not being here this year," Cheryn Engebrecht, an engineer in the Residential Buildings Group said. "I wish I had this experience when I was in high school."

Even President Obama and the First Lady have caught the enthusiasm for the Science Bowl. Mikayla Nelson, a high school freshman from Billings, Mont., sat with First Lady Michelle Obama at this year's State of the Union Address. Nelson earned her place there by leading her team to a first place finish at the National Middle School Science Bowl for the design document of the team's solar car. The President also noted in his address to the country that, "We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair…"

NREL leaders also hope that more adults will celebrate and mentor students to excel in math and sciences.

"I had great support from the adults in my life while in high school—from my parents and aunts and uncles, and from my teachers," Hawsey said. "NREL is forever linked to sustainable, clean energy systems, and we want to show our support for students who aspire to be our nation's next scientists and engineers."

Learn more about NREL's Education Programs for middle school, high school and college internships.

— Heather Lammers with contributions from David Glickson.

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