Excited chatter could be heard through muffled microphones Saturday as students competed in the Middle School Regional Science Bowl for a chance to snag a spot in the nationals.

Buzzers were quickly pressed as students brainstormed answers to rapid-fire questions -- sometimes above their grade levels -- on subjects ranging from biology and chemistry to physics and math.

After nine rounds of competition on a stage at Brookhaven National Laboratory, five students emerged victorious.

The Long Island region winners, representing Robert Cushman Murphy Junior High School in Stony Brook, were: Rohan Nagavardhan, Mourya Chimpiri, Luke Randall, Keene Lu and Reilly Browne. Reilly, the team captain, is in eighth grade; the others are seventh-graders.

"It was a very exciting day," said Patrick McManus, the team's coach. "They took this really seriously. They were meeting on weekends to practice, on snow days -- any time they could get a chance, even during study hall."

Reilly, 14, also credited the team's strategy for overcoming tough competition. "We have different team members study different subject areas so we have a greater chance," he said. "Instead of everyone knowing everything, one person knows a lot of one subject."

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About 100 students on 21 teams competed in the 10th annual event -- one of 50 regional competitions held around the country.

"Today's a day for them to show off their skills," said Scott Bronson, manager of the K-12 study programs at the lab.

The winners will go on an all-expense-paid trip to the U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl in Washington, D.C., scheduled for April 30 through May 4.

McManus has taught at the Stony Brook school for 14 years and is the science department chairman. He said he'll use the next few weeks to help prepare the team for questions on photosynthesis, amino acids and more.

"There are questions here that are high school-level questions that the kids haven't been exposed to yet," he said. "But we're excited."