Kids Display Smarts at Science Bowl

When 20 schools from around the state faced off at the Virginia Regional Science Bowl on Saturday in Newport News, one school stood out: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria.

And senior Gregory Price, the team captain, was the overarching reason for the team's dominance.

His four-member squad was in the final round of the competition against a four-member team from Woodbridge Senior High School, and Price was coolly carrying his team to victory, answering more than half the questions that came the students' way.

But then came this question: "A plane cutting a circular cone at an angle parallel to the axis will produce which of the following. (w) a circle; (x) an ellipse; (y) a parabola; or (z) a hyperbola."

Price hit his answer button before the judge even finished reading the first choice. His answer: "hyperbola."

The judge said that was incorrect. The correct answer, the judge said, was the parabola.

"Actually, it's a hyperbola," a confident Price said, challenging the ruling and further explaining his reason in technical terms.

Audience members, at the auditorium of the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, started interjecting on both sides of the argument. A judge had to call for calm. Another organizer went to a nearby phone and called another judge, sitting at a remote location, who said the judges stood by their original "parabola" decision.

"Challenge denied," the judge said.

Later, during the match intermission, some audience members debated that answer, complete with drawing diagrams on pieces of paper and citing involved equations that proved their point.

"At first, I thought it was a parabola, but the more I thought about it, the more I think he was right," said one man.

But the argument was moot anyway. Thomas Jefferson's team was clearly the best team at this competition, dispatching that team from Woodbridge, and, before that, a team from Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach. Those three schools finished first, second and third, respectively, out of 20 schools around the state.

The event, run by the Department of Energy since 1991, is designed to encourage science and math skills among high school students and to encourage students to go into careers in those fields.

The Virginia champs will now compete in the Science Bowl Nationals in May. The second and third runners-up received cash awards to buy science equipment for their schools. A sportsmanship award was won by Forest Park High School in Midlothian.

A team from the New Horizon's Governor's School in Hampton — a school made up of students from high schools on the Peninsula — made a strong showing. They finished sixth, eliminated in a late round by the Kempsville team.

After that match, the New Horizon squad was joking about some of the questions they missed. They were lamenting everything from the question about the geometrical arrangement of molecules and their "hybrid orbital sets," to that other one about fruit.

The fruit question was this: Which is a simple fruit: (w) sour cherry; (x) pineapple; (y) fig; or (z) raspberry. The New Horizons students guessed fig, but the judges said the sour cherry was the answer.

"That's a matter of opinion," joked the team captain, William Fithian.

"A fig seems pretty simple to me," he said.

Other local schools that competed were Denbigh Baptist Christian School in Newport News, Isle of Wight Academy in Isle of Wight, and Chesapeake Bay Governor's School for Marine and Environmental Science in Tappahannock.

Linda Ware, a Jefferson lab spokeswoman, said she was particularly proud of some of the smaller schools that took part. Everyone, she said, clearly enjoyed themselves.

"It's rewarding for kids who study hard and do well to be able to show off their talents."