March 10, 2021

Princeton Charter School Takes Home Science Bowl Win For 4th Straight Year

FOUR-TIME CHAMPS: Princeton Charter School’s Science Bowl team will be going to the national competition in April for the fourth year in a row after winning last month’s U.S. Department of Energy’s New Jersey Regional Science Bowl hosted by Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. (Courtesy of Princeton Charter School)

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton Charter School (PCS) brought home the first-place trophy for the fourth consecutive year in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) New Jersey Regional Science Bowl middle school competition, hosted by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) on February 19 and 20.

With this year’s contests all virtual, PCS will be participating in the National Science Bowl preliminary rounds in April, and the top 32 middle and high school teams will move on to the final elimination tournaments in May. PCS made it to the final 16 round last year.

In the regional high school division finals, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South battled it out for the top prize with the North team emerging victorious to advance to the national competition this spring.

The PCS team of Justin Feder, Nitza Kahlon, Vihaan Jim, Reed Sacks, and Albert Zhu defeated William Annin Middle School from Basking Ridge in the finals, with Highland Park Middle School coming in third. The Noor-ul-Iman middle school team from Monmouth Junction received the Spirit Prize for displaying the best team spirit and sportsmanship.

In the high school division, the Princeton International School for Math and Science came in third behind the two West Windsor-Plainsboro schools.

With many students attending school from home this year or in a hybrid model of at-home and in-school classes, the coaches and students noted that the Science Bowl provided a sense of normalcy. “So many things are different this year. But at least we can do Science Bowl,” said PCS Coach Laura Celik.

Celik and co-coach Suzanne Ritter expressed their pride in the PCS team’s accomplishments. “Not only are they all very talented, but they enjoy practice and do it often,” said Celik. Emphasizing the key role of Feder over the past three years and as team captain and role model this year, she continued, “His scientific knowledge is extensive, and he also enjoys competition. Justin is focused and driven, and also upbeat and inclusive of his peers.”

Celik also emphasized Jim’s curiosity about all things and Kahlon’s competitiveness and love of a challenge.

Emphasizing the success of the event despite significant challenges, PPPL Science Education Program Manager Deedee Ortiz, who organized the competition in collaboration  with the DOE’s National Science Bowl Team in Washington, D.C., noted, “The students and coaches worked hard to prepare and it showed by their outstanding performance during the competition. They did not let these obstacles deter them from showing off what they love, which is science. We are all so proud of them!”

Andrew Zwicker, PPPL’s head of communications and public outreach, served as master of ceremonies and volunteered as a moderator and timer at both contests. “In this craziest of years where learning is just so challenging, you were willing to be with us and go on this adventure just like you’re doing with your classes,” he told the students.

Volunteers helping to run the Science Bowl came from national laboratories, universities, and companies from all over the country, with PPPL fielding the largest contingent of volunteers. PPPL director Steve Cowley joined about 24 PPPL participants and 24 others to assist.

“It’s fun,” said PPPL physicist George Wilkie, who volunteered for the first time for the high school contest. “These kids are really impressive.”

Another first-time volunteer, Pamela Serai, an administrator in Advanced Projects and ITER Projects at PPPL, agreed. “These kids are amazingly bright students,” she said. 

Unlike in previous years when students buzzed in to answer questions in a head-to-head, double-elimination contest, students in this year’s online contest competed against each other separately in their own virtual breakout rooms. The students and coaches sat at their computers with one camera on their faces and another device showing their work stations. 

They were permitted to discuss their answers, as 11 middle school teams answered 15 toss-up questions each plus bonus questions, and the 32 high school teams answered 18 questions and additional bonus questions.