Put on your high school science thinking cap and give this chemistry question a try:
In the nuclear fuel cell cycle, yellowcake is converted into what gas?
Maybe that’s a bit much for a Wednesday. Maybe this math question is more approachable:
What is the units digit of (13)^4 x (17)^2 x (29)^3?
Here’s a hint: The answers are Hexaflouride and 1.
Tokay High School students got the answers right to these and even tougher questions in a matter of seconds, leading them to a first-place win at Saturday’s Central Valley California Regional Science Bowl. They’ll go on to the nationals in April. Tokay last sent a team to nationals in 2010.
The Bowl is a fast-action buzzer competition with timed questions based on six categories. Students must be schooled in biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space, math and energy to answer complex questions.
For the toss-up questions, anyone can answer in five seconds or less. Team questions allow 20 seconds, but the captain must respond.
“It’s kind of like ‘Jeopardy,’ but faster,” said Susan Heberle, a retired science Tokay science teacher who advises the teams. “You can’t just know your stuff, you have to be able to perform, and be confident enough to ring in early.”
There are three teams of five students who meet up in Heberle’s garage on Sunday afternoons to study and practice with buzzers. Freshmen show up early to review science topics the older students have already gotten in class.
“I’m pretty happy we have 15 kids willing to give up their time every weekend,” she said. “They do very well in science classes. I would doubt there’s anyone in there with under a 4.0.”
One challenge was in selecting the students who would compete at regionals. Tryouts were held. The top 10 students were split into the Purple and Gold teams, each made up of four players and one alternate.
Tokay’s Purple Team went undefeated against 23 other teams in the first round at Downey High School in Modest. The Gold Team was ahead in points until the last 10 seconds, and was fourth seed.
At that point, the top eight teams entered a double elimination round. Get two questions wrong, and you’re done.
“It was really very exciting,” said Ethan Chang, a co-captain of the Purple Team. “You become very focused when you compete. It’s not terribly nerve-wracking.”
Purple faced Gold and won. Then Tokay’s remaining team faced off against Enochs High School, Modesto, in the finals.
Tokay lost one round.
Enochs lost another.
But in the final round, Tokay’s Purple Team won the day.
“Congratulations to the students at Tokay High School — some of America’s future leaders in the science, technology, engineering and math fields,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a press release. “Through the National Science Bowl, we’re challenging today’s students and ensuring that America stays competitive in a rapidly advancing world.”
Chang, along with Dan Connelly, Damanjit Hundal, Claudia MacFarlane and David Chour, earned an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. in April.
They are one of 70 teams that will compete in the 22nd Annual U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl.
“We’ll be in top mental shape,” said Chang. “These are the best of the best.” The stakes are high: The final rounds are often played before heads of government. First lady Michelle Obama and CIA agents have also been known to drop in to read off a question or two.
“They are so excited. They worked so hard for this. They really knew their stuff,” said Heberle.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.