Sunday, May 1, 2005

More than 300 teen scientists from 1,800 schools in 41 states converged on the District this weekend to compete in the 15th annual National Science Bowl, conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The winners will be decided today at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase.

“We’ve got a great team this year,” said Sharon Baker, mathematics teacher at the Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, which has won the Science Bowl three times.

Sam Lederer, 17, was on one of those winning teams last year. “So far, it’s pretty similar,” said the senior, who is team captain this year.

He and his teammates had just beaten the team of Timbuktu Academy from Baton Rouge, La., by a score of 226-60.

Two other local teams in the bowl are Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, 800 Euclid St. NW in the District, and Thomas S. Wootton High School of Rockville.

The local students are part of an elite group of competitors winnowed from a field of 13,000 from 63 states and regions. They answer questions about biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics and earth and general science.

A sample question is: Which is the best example of gravitational lensing? Answer choices: W — Distortion of light by intervening galaxies. X — The diffraction of light by a large mass. Y — Obstruction of light by a large mass. Z — Chromatic aberration of an image by an unknown source of gravity.

“W” is the correct answer.

Multiple-choice questions are answered using the last four answers of the alphabet; A, B, C, D sound too much alike when judges announce the choices, said Jeff Sherwood, information officer for the Department of Energy.

“The kids get the sense that scientists do things right. It’s a great inspiration,” said Peter Faletra, 53, director in the Energy Department’s Office of Science, who has been conducting contests and working in the Science Bowl for five years.

“Much more is demanded of students,” he said, adding that more freshmen and sophomores are becoming intrigued by technologies and the sciences and are coming to the finals.

A team from Portland, Ore., is made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores. A girl on the team won a model-car race Saturday, arranging power from a hydrogen fuel cell.

The Department of Energy created the Science Bowl in 1990. Many of the participants have pursued careers in science and technology, Mr. Faletra said.

Today, the top four teams will get a chance to pick their prize from among the following: a two-week trip to physics and science lectures and tours in Australia; a week of archaeological digging, a search for alligators and a study of coastal ecosystems near Charleston, S.C.; a trip to Alaska for studies including the energy infrastructure created by the land of the midnight sun; or an excursion to Colorado to study American Indian history, archaeological research and human interaction with the environment.

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