A future generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and inventors matched wits on the General Electric Global Research campus on Saturday.
Middle school and high school students from the Capital Region handled short-answer and multiple-choice questions in biology, math and other categories as part of the National Science Bowl Regional Qualifying tournament. This regional competition was to qualify for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl in Washington, D.C., in April.
Competition moved at a rapid pace, with answers spit out before a question might even be completed. Teams of four sat anxiously with response buzzers, as a questioner used terms and phrases that mystified most of the supportive adults watching silently.
Tom Feist, a Niskayuna resident who works at GE Healthcare in Troy and was volunteering, said the most impressive part of the event was the wide scope of knowledge the kids needed. He noted that the volunteers, most of whom possess graduate degrees, “can’t answer more than 50 percent of the questions.”
Questions varied from cell biology, to algebra and astrophysics.
When the team from the Ballston Spa Middle School didn’t know a question, like a bonus that would allow members to consult each other, it usually fell on 13-year-old Ryan Madcharo to guess. By far the most vocal player on his team, his thinking out loud drew laughs in the late afternoon, especially when he second guessed his instincts.
Team member Thomas Sheffield, 13, said, “I feel like we always go with Ryan’s answers for the most part.”
“And then if we get it wrong,” he joked, “we can blame it on him.”
The formula worked until the end of the day, when the team fell in the finals to a team from the Bethlehem Middle School. Bethlehem also won the high school division.
The performance by Ballston Spa was their best ever, noted co-coach Sharon Wohl, a 6th grade science teacher.
Team member Meg Allen, 13, called the ride “nerve wracking.”
Even from the sidelines during the semi-finals, team member David Devasagayam, 12, was feeling all the ups and downs of the contest, saying, “Sometimes I’m like, ‘How did you not get that’ or “Wow, that’s a really good answer.’”
That sort of competitive atmosphere is part of what’s special about this event, stressed Feist. “These kids are passionate and fired up,” he said. “Competition will always bring out the excitement. It gives these kids an opportunity to spark that interest.”
An interest that if grown at a young age could lead to the next generation of great minds. “You need a generation that is excited and trained,” Feist said. “That is the future of science and exploration ... and everything else.”
The event is only possible with the help of more than 100 volunteers from General Electric. They’re involved with every aspect of the tournament, from keeping score to organizing lunches, putting in about 1,000 hours in the process. The event is cosponsored by Knolls Atomic Power Lab and NOVA Society.
Read more about the upcoming national competition at www.science.energy.gov/wdts/nsb/.