Ward Melville High School senior Ariel Yang was among hundreds of students to hear United States Secretary of Energy Steven Chu speak in Washington D.C.
Yang was inspired by what Chu told students competing in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 22nd National Science Bowl April 27-30. Ward Melville was among 69 high schools in the country to advance from regional competition to the nationals.
What he said “gave us perspective of what science is and what it can be used for,” said Yang, 17, of Stony Brook. “Science is really about the pursuit of knowledge.”
Senior Zach Zhou, 17, junior Daniil Lukin, 16, and sophomores Eidan Jacob, 15, and Harrison Li, 15, joined Yang in competing on behalf of their school. The team came in fourth in the Hypatia Division out of eight teams.
Hypatia Division contestants on the first day competed in hands-on science activities involving earth and space science.
Their mission was to map the magnetic field surrounding two foam boards, using a compass, paper clip and magnetometer, used to measure the strength or direction of magnetic fields, in under 45 minutes. The Ward Melville team finished fifth in that portion.
“We overestimated its difficulty,” said Zhou, of Stony Brook. “There were three hidden magnets and we plotted six or seven. They had things to throw us off, but we ended up mapping all three magnets correctly.”
Last Sunday, the team competed in the second portion of the contest, consisting of multiple choice and short answer advanced placement science questions. Much like “Jeopardy!”, the teams had to buzz in with their collective answers.
“We didn’t realize teams would be so aggressive buzzing in, but towards the end we learned from it,” said Yang, who is co-salutatorian of Ward Melville’s senior class with Zhou. “It’s amazing to see all the kids dedicated to science and really retaining it.”
Ward Melville adviser Kathleen Rocklein, a retired Ward Melville High School chemistry teacher, filled in for physics teacher Bob Spira, who readied the students for the competition but didn’t attend due to preparations for final exams.
“It was very impressive the way they answered some of those questions,” said Rocklein, 59, of Islip Terrace. “They had to do math in their head, calculus in their head. It’s a wonderful thing to watch and see how good they are at it.”
Although Yang’s team returned home without a first place victory, Secretary Chu’s words stayed with her and made her realize something.
“It’s not about winning, it’s more about discovering new things in science. Science is more than acquiring and remembering knowledge, it’s the search," Yang said. “I believe that.”
Above: Ward Melville High School students, from left, Ariel Yang, 17, Eidan Jacob, 15, Jack Zhou, 17, Harrison Li, 15, and Daniil Lukin, 16, map out a magnetic field during the U.S. Department of Energy 22nd National Science Bowl in Washington, D.C. (April 27, 2012)