- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

   Katherine Aull felt there was no way she could lead Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to its second straight National Science Bowl championship after the team captain from last year left.
   “Asking me to fill his spot, it’s like giving me a basketball and asking me to fill in for [Michael Jordan],” the junior and only returning team member said.
   And after the team started out with one victory and two losses Sunday morning in Washington, she was afraid her doubts were founded.
   But by yesterday afternoon she and her teammates, three juniors and two seniors, were posing with a trophy that stood nearly as tall as themselves and were planning a victory research trip to Sydney, Australia, to attend the International Science School.
   The winning high school, in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, beat out more than 60 teams from across the nation that made the trip to Washington. But at one point, some team members felt like their remaining matches were nothing but practice for next year, said Paul Yang.
   Teammates Katherine, 17; Paul, 16; Michael Zhang, 17; Sumanth Ravipati, 17; and My-Linh Nguyen, 17, said the questions became more difficult as the competition drew to a close. The one they sealed their victory with was: “Given that Planck’s Constant is 6.63 x 10 to the negative 34th power Joule-seconds, what is the energy, in Joules and in proper scientific notation, of a photon of light at a wavelength of 663 nanometers?”
   The team wasn’t taking anything for granted going into the final match of the tournament. “I didn’t know until we had one question left and we had an 18-point lead,” Sumanth said.
   They said they would work on their buzzer speeds for next year to ensure other teams don’t answer before them in earlier rounds when simpler questions are asked.
   “I am so proud of the team because everyone contributed to the victory,” said Sharon Baker, coach of the champions. “They were gracious in victory and in a loss. They’ve done the school proud.”
    She said much of the preparation for the bowl comes in individual reading and that other activities limit the time team members can practice together or try to replicate the bowl environment. Three members of the team, including its captain, will be returning to try for title next year.
   But they’ll have stiff competition. The Montgomery Blair High School team from Silver Spring was eliminated in a tie-breaker but still finished in the top 12. The top 12 teams each get $1,000 for their schools’ science departments.
    Montgomery Blair students said they’re confident next year will be their time and that the team now has more experience under pressure and will know to respond more quickly in early rounds. The team has four of its five members, all juniors, returning next year.
   The Thomas Jefferson as well as the Montgomery Blair teams said they will benefit in their college years and beyond from what they learned preparing for the competition, and the weekend of science education.
    Two people who participated in the Science Bowl last year are good examples.
   Craig Alpert of Pittsburgh, a freshman at Harvard University, said competing in the contest last year prepared him for college by making him read many books and easing the transition from a high school workload to a college one.
    Vinay Rodrigues, one of his friends and former teammates at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, also was helped by the contest. He said he learned how to handle pressure and retain knowledge, two important ingredients for his success as a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    Both said they met several people at the bowl last year with whom they are still in contact.
   The two recall the nervousness they felt when onstage in front of hundreds of their peers, dozens of teachers and other people. The only way to handle it, they said, is to concentrate on the game instead of the crowd.
   “You’re not looking at the audience,” said Mr. Alpert. “You’re looking at the questions, the score and the clock.”
   The District’s Benjamin Banneker High School also fielded a team, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. It was one of 10 teams that competed Saturday in a fuel-cell model-car race. The team designed, built, tested and raced a model car powered by hydrogen.

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