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NREL: Fossil Ridge Wins Colorado High School Science Bowl for Second Year in a Row


Defending their title and defeating 16 teams from across the state, a Fossil Ridge High School team has become the winners of the 32nd annual Colorado Regional High School Science Bowl.

The winning team—Sophie Wang, Jackson Dryg, Kary Fang, Colin Magelky, and Quentin Perez-Wahl—cheered each other on at the start of their final round, which was moderated by Derek Passarelli, acting deputy assistant secretary for Department of Energy (DOE) operations and the DOE Golden Field Office director.

The team members are veterans in the Science Bowl arena. Sophie and Jackson were on last year’s winning team, while Colin, Quentin, Jackson, and Kary were all a part of the 2020 National Middle School Science Bowl champion team.

Passarelli, also a Science Bowl veteran with 21 years of moderating, shared his enthusiasm for the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) event and hope for the future.

“This is one of my favorite activities we do at the Department of Energy,” said Passarelli. “Students are the future. We are counting on you to make the human condition better.”

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Director Martin Keller shared a similar hope for the competitors in a recorded video kicking off the competition.

“I am glad that you all, some the brightest young scientist minds in the state, are taking part in today’s science bowl,” Martin said. “You are not only building upon your knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math, you are also developing your ability to work in teams, think creatively, and thrive under pressure situations. You are the type of people we want working with us here at NREL.”

32 Years of Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists
Tom Mason, NREL’s STEM education outreach coordinator, agreeing with Keller, believes the stiff competition encourages future scientists.

“I think it’s a great way to test the knowledge of students in a fairly high-paced, intense environment,” said Mason. “There is no doubt that these students will be some of the STEM leaders of the future and some of them will come to work at NREL. Many of these students are academically very successful and will go on to top colleges to set themselves up for successful research careers.”

For NREL mechanical engineer Matthew Keyser, that’s exactly what happened. Keyser participated in the High School Science Bowl – known then as the Physics Bowl – when he was 17 years old.

“My career path was fairly set at that point – I knew that I would be going into an engineering or science field. However, the competition helped me understand my strengths and the areas where I could improve my knowledge,” said Keyser.

NREL, founded as the Solar Energy Research Institute in 1977, is in its 45th year. For 32 of those years, NREL has hosted the Colorado Regional High School Science Bowl. In that time, an estimated 7,000 students have participated in the competition.

An operation this large requires many hands. In the three decades of competition, more than 3,000 volunteers have acted as timekeepers, asked questions, judged, coordinated logistics, and in the last three years of virtual competition, acted as IT for students across the state.

More than 50 volunteers from local and national STEM supporters, NREL staff, the Colorado School of Mines, and the Department of Energy ensured this year’s event ran smoothly.

Keyser has been at NREL for nearly 30 years and has volunteered at an estimated 20 to 25 High School Science Bowl competitions.

“I volunteer to give something back to the scientific community,” said Keyser. “Unfortunately, STEM takes a bit of a backseat to athletics in high school, and I want the students to know that there are avenues to pursue their passions and interests.”

Over the years, winning teams have moved on from the NREL-hosted competition to Washington, D.C. for the National Science Bowl. In 2007, Poudre High School from Fort Collins, Colo., defeated 64 high schools to become national champions. Fairview High School and Boulder High School made it to fourth and second places, respectively.

Fossil Ridge Looks to Nationals and the Future
In hopes of following in those previous Colorado national champs’ footsteps, the Fossil Ridge team is going on to compete virtually in the National Science Bowl Preliminary Tournament, consisting of three preliminary rounds. The top eight teams will advance in July to the Championship Tournament, held in Washington with all expenses paid.

Despite winning last year’s competition, the Fossil Ridge team went back to practicing. The team bought buzzers, used in the in-person event, and developed a team mentality, as the students worked on timing and communication to prepare for this year’s event.

“I like Science Bowl because it’s expanding what you think you know and expanding your capabilities. Using that to work with a team and seeing how far teamwork can bring you,” said Sophie.

Jackson agreed and said, “It’s fun to work with a team, especially as we kind of get to know common topics.”

The team is looking forward to getting back to in-person competitions but did think there were positives to a virtual event.

“I miss the excitement of being in person, but this year it was kind of nice to be able to stay home and run upstairs for a quick snack,” said Colin.

Looking beyond the competition–and snacks–the team members are all interested in working in STEM fields in the future. Aerospace and electrical engineering, medicine, and biochemistry are some of the fields the students are considering.

They are also interested in working on the pressing scientific problems of our time. Machine learning implications, disease control, antibiotic resistance, and sustainability were all mentioned by the team members as issues that are critical to address.

“I’m definitely interested in working for a renewable energy cause,” said Quentin. “As a species, climate change is one of the big things right now. It is very evident.”

A Challenge Beyond the Classroom
The questions in the 2022 Colorado High School Science Bowl covered a wide range of STEM topics including biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, earth and space sciences, and energy, including questions about the DOE’s 17 national laboratories.

The Colorado High School Science Bowl had 17 teams from 12 different schools participating this year.

Arvada West High School
Centennial High School
Cherry Creek High School
Cherokee Trail High School
D’Evelyn High School
Fairview High School
Fossil Ridge High School
Loveland High School
Poudre High School
Ridgeview Classical Academy
Rock Canyon High School
Rocky Mountain High School
Students were asked three rounds of 18 questions during the preliminary rounds, with the top 12 teams advancing to the elimination rounds, where the competition grew more intense. The final four teams were Fossil Ridge High School, Rock Canyon High School, Cherry Creek High School, and Cherokee Trail High School.

The Fossil Ridge High School team answered questions on rollercoaster speed, COVID-19, battery safety, and diamonds, among others, in the last round. One of the final questions, which sealed the team’s win, was “What is the largest possible difference between two 4-digit palindromes each divisible by 4?” The answer is 6776.

In his closing remarks and congratulations to all the teams, Passarelli encouraged students to take their knowledge beyond the competition and classroom.

“Find something you are passionate about,” said Passarelli. “You have a real opportunity to reform the world for the better.”

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