March 13, 2024

Charter School Wins Regional Science Bowl, Will Compete for National Middle School Title

SCIENCE BOWL CHAMPS: The Princeton Charter School team will be going to the National Science Bowl for the sixth time next month, after winning the regional competition. Standing in front of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory model stellarator are, from left, Angelica Feng, Asa Fleischer-Graham, Aaron Wang, Rohan Srivastava, Joshua Huang, and Coach Laura Celik. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Department of Communications)

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton Charter School (PCS), for the sixth time in seven years, has won the regional competition for the National Science Bowl  and will compete in the National Science Bowl National Finals in Washington, D.C., from April 25 to 29.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Science Bowl brings together thousands of middle and high school students from across the country to compete in a fast-paced question-and-answer contest where they solve technical problems and answer questions from a range of disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth and space sciences, physics, and math.

The regional competition took place at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) on  February 22, when the PCS team of five defeated the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School team by a score of 138-94 in the final round, with Bridgewater-Raritan finishing second, the Wilberforce School of Princeton finishing third, and the French American School of Princeton winning the award for school spirit and sportsmanship. PPPL has hosted the Science Bowl for 32 years.

In the high school competition West Windsor-Plainsboro North and West Windsor-Plainsboro South squared off in the final round, with North prevailing 170-88 and South finishing in second place, followed by Livingston High School in third place. The North team will be traveling to Washington, D.C., in April to compete in the National Science Bowl High School National Finals.

PCS Science Bowl Coach Laura Celik commented on the team’s success. “I would say this team lives and breathes Science Bowl more than any other team I’ve seen,” she said.

The team started the school year with 48 students, and the final team of five primary members — Angelica Feng, Asa Fleischer-Graham, Joshua Huang, Rohan Srivastava, and Aaron Wang — along with several backup team members, practiced throughout the fall and winter, with one of the students developing an online program to enhance practice sessions.

“Science Bowl is a great opportunity for students who are interested in STEM fields to find their ‘people’ and to make connections with students from across the state and across the country with similar passions,” Celik added. “It’s the ‘Oscars’ for science-minded middle school kids.”

The team was supported by Charter School alumni who are currently at Princeton High School and Princeton University. Two former teachers, Mark Schlawin and Suzanne Ritter, also returned to PCS to help Celik coach the team.

Contestants in the Science Bowl competition have just five seconds to be the first to buzz in their answers to toss-up questions and 20 seconds to answer bonus questions during the two eight-minute sessions in each round. There are at least 10 more rounds in the middle school contest and 12 or more rounds in the high school contest.

“It is so inspiring to see you compete at such a high level,” Andrew Zwicker, PPPL head of strategic partnerships and public engagement and also the judge of the final middle school competition, told the students, as quoted in a PPPL press release. “This is middle school: I can’t wait to see what you do in high school and then college, and one day you’ll work here and solve fusion energy.”

Among the dozens of PPPL staff members and their families and others who volunteered as science judges, timekeepers, and hall monitors was physicist Stan Kaye, who commented, “It’s fun. I’m always so impressed by the students. It’s just incredible seeing the breadth and depth of their knowledge and how quickly their minds work.”

PPPL Head of Science Education Arturo Dominguez echoed those sentiments. “It’s awesome — the students are incredible at answering all these questions and you can see their school spirit. It’s great to see them all having so much fun at a STEM-centered event.”

Alvaro Sanchez-Villar, another PPPL physicist who volunteered at the event, added, “It’s really fun, but I’m shocked because most of the questions I couldn’t answer, especially at that pace.”