A team of Wayzata High School students took home the National Science Bowl title on Monday, capturing honors that include an all-expense-paid nine-day trip to Alaska.
Wayzata defeated Dulles High School of Sugar Land, Texas, for victory in the U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Geoffrey Chen, Ben Weiner, Matthew Qu, Aayush Gupta and Stephen Chen achieved the victory, coached by Amanda Laden. They won the regional in St. Paul in January, coming out on top among 33 teams from 17 schools who went toe to toe answering tossup questions, with a correct answer earning a shot at bonus points.
Laden was quick to acknowledge that her team members have a better mastery of science than she does.
"Not even close, not even close," she said. "I teach biology, and they were answering biology questions before I even knew what area the question was in."
While being careful to give props to everyone on the team, Laden called senior Geoffrey Chen "a cut above the rest, just phenomenal. He would have the answer even before the question was completed. There was oohing and aahing in the room."
Wayzata needed to defeat Sugar Land twice for the title in the double-elimination format, after losing to the Houston-area team in an earlier round Sunday.
"We came into nationals not expecting too much," said Gupta, a junior with designs on a career in biomedical engineering.
"We actually answered more [of the tossup questions] right than they did" Sunday, he explained, but lost out on more points during bonus opportunities.
Among the crucial questions Wayzata answered correctly: "A group of Department of Energy Office of Science researchers conducted a conformation analysis of the epidermal growth factor receptor using modeling and time-resolved fluorescence microscopy. Identify all of the statements that are true concerning this protein."
Answer (duh?): "It is a receptor tyrosine kinase."
Amid the euphoria for Laden was a touch of lament. Her team was absent any girls.
"What can I say about that?" she said, noting the selections are based on a written test, and rounds of questions pitting candidates against each other. "I deliberated over it. I don't choose the team. It just turned out that way. It doesn't sit well with me."
The national champs will go on day trips in Alaska to learn about glaciology, marine and avian biology, geology and plate tectonics. They will explore the Copper River Delta, known for its highly prized stocks and prolific runs of wild salmon; experience old-growth hemlock and spruce while hiking through the Chugach National Forest; white-water raft on the Sheridan River and travel across the scenic Prince William Sound and Orca Inlet, home to the world's largest population of sea otters. The trip also includes visits to Childs Glacier and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which is a rehabilitation facility for injured and orphaned wildlife.
Sugar Land earned a boat ride up the Copper River to Childs Glacier to learn about glaciology, and hike through the Heney Ridge Trail and experience three ecosystems. They also will learn about the diverse marine life in tidal pools, and see the historic Million Dollar Bridge.
The top 16 high school teams will receive $1,000 for their schools' science departments.
Altogether, 9,251 high school students from every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico participated in this year's regional competitions.
The Energy Department created the National Science Bowl in 1991 to encourage students to excel in math and science, and to pursue careers in these fields. About 305,000 students have participated in the bowl since its creation.