The Breakfast Club: T.C. Williams Science Bowl team takes second place in state. (The Alexandria Gazette)

From left, Science Bowl team members Rachel Brown-Glazner, Ian Waters, Todd Bernhard, Edward Montiel and Charles Slominski pose next to their trophy with coach Manu Patel and Principal John Porter.

The Breakfast Club

T.C. Williams Science Bowl team takes second place in state.

What percentage of the earth's atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide? Is it 0.03 percent, 1 percent, 5 percent or 7 percent? Don't know the answer?

The students of T.C. Williams High School Science Bowl do — and last week they used their knowledge to win a second-place victory in the Virginia Regional Science Bowl Competition, which was held on Feb. 11 at the Jefferson Lab in Newport News. The team received a $400 check for the school and a team trophy that is on display in the school's lobby.

"This proves that our students can do it," said Manu Patel, a science teacher at the high school and coach of the Science Bowl team. "We don't need to send our students to other schools because we can give our students what they want right here at T.C. Williams."

For the five members of the Science Bowl team, who have been meeting twice a week since September, being part of the lineup is more than an obligation. It's a chance to talk about exciting subjects with friends who share a common interest. Over chocolate-covered glazed doughnuts on Saturday morning, the Science Bowl team members might talk about anything from the theory of evolution to recent Nobel Prize award-winners.

"There's no other place to find the quality of conversation that we have," said team captain Charles Slominski, a senior who is also a track star at the high school. "And it was good to see that we could beat out almost everybody else in the state."

Team members have been preparing for the competition for five months, drilling each other on scientific trivia and chatting about topics of interest.

"There are few places in the school where you can find people who would even pretend to be interested in theories about the Big Bang," said Ian Waters, who is a coxswain on the high school's crew team. "So it's great to have people to talk to about these things."

With questions ranging from biology to math, it helps for each member to have an area of interest that they can become an expert in.

"I would say that I'm one of the few people at the school who is really interested in astronomy," said Edward Montiel, a senior who is also a member of the school's swim team. "And toward the end of the competition, the questions get really obscure."

In the last round of the tournament, the T.C. Williams team was only two questions away from beating their arch-rivals: students from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Although they didn't win first place, they came very close — and they are proud of their success in the competition. And they had some great conversations along the way.

"I find theories about genetics and evolution very interesting," said Rachel Brown-Glazner, a senior who also plays saxophone in the marching band. "And I'm also interested in a wide range of things. So I thought this might be fun."

Mostly, members of the team share one common trait: They are curious about the world around them and they are willing to ask questions about it. Even if it means giving up some of their weekend to do it.

"I wasn't doing anything else at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning," said Todd Bernhard, a senior who is the stage manager of the school's spring musical. "Besides, I'm one of the biggest nerds in the school. So it was natural for me to be on the team."

In other news, 0.03 percent of the earth's atmosphere is made up of carbon dioxide — a question that the T.C. Williams team got right.