Almost 100 Long Island youths from 12 schools gathered at Brookhaven National Lab in Upton Saturday for the Middle School Regional Science Bowl, testing their knowledge of science and technology -- and racing lithium-ion battery-powered cars they made.
"It's a little more intense than I imagined," said Guilliana Lorenzo, 14, an eighth-grader from East Patchogue who competed on the Bellport Middle School team in the academic contest. "It's scary, but it's fun."
Two teams from each school faced off in a round-robin tournament, answering questions about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Commack Middle School came out the winner, beating Locust Valley Middle School in a squeaker, 68-54.
"That was stressful," said Rudy Petruzzi, whose 14-year-old son, Sam, was on the Commack team. He's coached two sons in football. "This was way more tense. Each answer was like a tackle."
The Commack team will go to the National Science Bowl at the end of April in Washington.
Ken White, manager of the office of educational programs at Brookhaven National Lab, said the lab and scientists are pushing to connect students interested in science and technology with businesses that need qualified workers. It's important, White said, to expose students to working scientists.
"Part of keeping good jobs here on Long Island is having a workforce ready to fill them," White said.
Disagreements on rules
Not that it's always smooth.
A frequent problem is "blurting" -- shouted out answers from eager middle schoolers before the question is finished or they've rung the buzzer.
"They're so enthusiastic," said Adolph Almasy, a design engineer and volunteer at the Science Bowl for the past eight years. "They learn it's not just having knowledge. It's about having controlled adrenaline."White admits that after the first event 10 years ago, he wondered if it was worthwhile. There were disagreements about the rules; and the event requires about 80 volunteers, including physicists and engineers at the lab.
But the winning team's coach then, Bellport science teacher Sharyn Plotnick, told him about an eighth-grade girl who said after the competition that she was no longer embarrassed to be smart. "I melted like butter," White said.
Teams from Bellport, Commack, Great Neck, Port Jeff Station, Lawrence, Locust Valley, Longwood, Southampton, Shoreham-Wading River, Central Islip, William Floyd School District and Stony Brook competed.
The battery-powered cars they raced were made of such things as coffee cans, balsa wood, and old CDs.
Southampton's Our Lady of the Hamptons had the fastest vehicle, which they used to carry a one-pound container of salt down a straight track.