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Local Schools are Headed to National Science Bowl

West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North is Washington D.C. bound after winning New Jersey Regional Science Bowl 

The West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North team with their championship banner. From left: Coach Kerry Pross, Eric Wang, Krutharth Vaddiyar, Aldric Benalan, Benjamin Lin and Aprameya Tripathy. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Department of Communications) 


The Princeton Charter middle school team in front of the model stellarator in the Lyman Spitzer Building lobby. From left: Angelica Feng, Asa Fleischer-Graham, Aaron Wang, Rohan Srivastava Joshua Huang, Coach Laura Celik. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Department of Communications)?


Princeton Charter School goes to the National Science Bowl® for the sixth time 


Two rival high schools from the same school district, West Windsor-Plainsboro North and West Windsor-Plainsboro South competed against each other in the final round of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) New Jersey Regional Science Bowl on Feb. 23 with the North team winning the contest to go to the National Science Bowl® in Washington, D.C., in April. 


North won the final round 170 to 88. The South team came in second with Livingston High School coming in third. The event took place at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).

The DOE’s Office of Science manages the National Science Bowl® (NSB) and sponsors the finals competition. More information is available on the NSB website.


The Princeton Charter School won the middle school contest on Feb. 22. The two teams also competed in an online national contest in 2021 after winning an online New Jersey Regional Science Bowl hosted by PPPL during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


PPPL has hosted the Science Bowl for 32 years. Contestants are quizzed on biology, chemistry physics, Earth and space science and energy and must solve challenging mathematics equations on the spot using pencil and paper. They have just five seconds to be the first to buzz in their answer on toss-up questions and 20 seconds to answer bonus questions during the two eight-minute sessions in each round. There are at least 10 or more rounds in the middle school contest and 12 or more rounds in the high school contest.   


“I’m excited,” said Aldric Benalan, a sophomore and the captain of the West Windsor-Plainsboro North team, who has competed in the Science Bowl since eighth grade. “I really like meeting other kids who are also highly into science.” His teammate Benjamin Lin, a senior, said he thrives on the competition. “Science Bowl is addicting,” he said. “I love the feeling of playing and buzzing in.” 


Friendly competition 


The two West Windsor-Plainsboro teams are friendly with each other and have been competing in informal online contests with each other and other teams. Kerry Pross, the West Windsor-Plainsboro North coach, and Karel Villanueva, the West Windsor-Plainsboro South coach, are close friends who used to teach at the same school. “I’m ecstatic for them,” Pross said. “It’s nice to be going to Washington, D.C., with this group.” 


The two teams also went head to head in the final round of the Science Bowl in 2018 and West Windsor-Plainsboro South emerged the victor in that contest. “There’s a healthy rivalry between the two schools,” Villanueva said.  


In the middle school competition on Feb. 22, the Princeton Charter School team won for the sixth time in seven years after defeating the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School team with a score of 138 to 94 in the final round. Bridgewater-Raritan won second place, and the Wilberforce School, a private school in Princeton, came in third. The French American School, also in Princeton, won the school spirit award for school spirit and sportsmanship. 


A secret weapon 


The Princeton Charter team has practiced hard since at least fall 2023 using an online program one of the students developed. Another secret weapon they had was Angelica Feng, a seventh grader at Princeton Charter School, who is a whiz at math and answered many of the math questions that came the team’s way. 


Angelica said she found the competition “nerve-wracking” but said she likes testing herself. “It’s fun to compete against other teams to see who has more knowledge in a fast-paced game,” she said.  


The Princeton Charter team started out the school year with 48 youngsters, which means about one-third of the school tried out for the team, said coach Laura Celik. The final team of five primary members and several back-up team members practiced throughout the fall and winter, she said. “I would say this team lives and breathes Science Bowl more than any other team I’ve seen,” Celik added. 


Impressing the physicists 


Even physicists volunteering at the event said they were struck by how knowledgeable the students were. “It’s really fun, but I’m shocked because most of the questions I couldn’t answer, especially at that pace!” said Álvaro Sánchez-Villar, a PPPL physicist who volunteered at the event on Saturday. 


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


Deedee Ortiz, science education program manager who organized the Science Bowl along with Britt Albucker, a science education administrative assistant, said she enjoys working on it each year. “This was another inspiring event,” she said. “The students were great, and the volunteers were the stars of the show!” 


About 60 people volunteered. Dozens of PPPL staff members and their families and other volunteers served as science judges, science judges, timekeepers and hall monitors on Friday and on their day off on Saturday. Among them was Stan Kaye, a physicist who volunteered as a science judge on Saturday for his twelfth year. “It’s fun,” he said. “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.” 


Andrew Zwicker, head of strategic partnerships and public engagement who was the judge in the final middle school competition, expressed a similar sentiment. “It is so inspiring to see you compete at such a high level,” he told the students. “This is middle school: I can’t wait to do in high school and then college and one day you’ll work here and solve fusion energy!” 


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