Western Pa. regional Science Bowl competition gets students going

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 6:50 p.m.

After listening to a lengthy and involved question about the creation of isotopes, Mike Udovich turned to his fellow teammates from Baldwin High School, raised his hands in bewilderment and softly said, “What?”

“I've said that more than once today,” Udovich, 18, a senior, said on Saturday during a break in the regional competition for the National Science Bowl, held at the Community College of Allegheny County's South Campus in West Mifflin.

More than 200 middle and high school students from across Western Pennsylvania, in teams of four, furiously scribbled formulas, added and multiplied numbers in their heads, whispered among their teammates to confirm their answers, or simply took an educated guess on a multiple-choice question.

They had just a few seconds to come up with an answer for questions on subjects including energy, chemistry, physics, earth and space, and biology.

Semi-finalists from these high schools were chosen Saturday to compete in the regional finals on March 12: Hempfield Area; two teams from North Allegheny and Shadyside Academy. The winner of that match goes onto the national finals April 25-29 in Washington.

Thousands of students across the country have been competing in regional competitions since mid-January for a chance at the national finals for the bowl, managed by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Organizers said the event is designed to boost students' interest in pursuing math and science careers.

Some students had the answers even before a moderator finished asking the questions.

“It was about as hard as I thought it would be,” said Lucas Marks, 17, a junior at Fox Chapel Area High School. “Some questions you don't know, and some you knew right off the bat. It's a good test of your abilities, and it will help with college. It's fun.”

Luke Brienza, 16, an 11th-grader at Hampton, said that most of his knowledge for the competition he “gathered from science classes.”

Perry Cheng, 15, a 10th-grader at North Allegheny Intermediate, is interested in a career in physics. He correctly answered that smallpox is the only infectious disease that has been eradicated from nature.

Though he admitted some of the questions were bewildering, “For the most part, I knew what (the moderator) was asking,” Cheng said.

Students sometimes laughed and looked at each other in bewilderment, unsure what the question even meant, let alone trying to solve it.

Udovich, who wants to get into a pharmacy program, said that some questions covered material he had not learned in school.

“It was a good way to spend a Saturday,” Udovich said.

Alex Gorr, 15, a sophomore at Greensburg Central Catholic, said that he's interested in either a scientific or medical career, and had been competing in the bowls for several years.

“I'm learning a lot of stuff” from the questions at the competition, said Gorr, whose mother, Kim Gorr, was the team coach.

For weeks, local students drilled using sample questions from prior competitions or brushed up on scientific knowledge after school.

“I want them to have fun with it,” said Hampton coach Mary Lou Ellena-Wygonik, an enrichment facilitator for the school district. “I want them to learn good sportsmanship and work well together, and they do.”

“These kids are amazing,” said Otis Mills, of Monroeville, an employee of the National Energy Technology Laboratory in South Park and bowl volunteer. “They not only can answer a variety of different questions, but they even can keep score in their heads. I feel more secure about our future.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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