Teams of middle-schoolers huddled around a makeshift runway outside the National Science Bowl’s competition site Friday afternoon, completely absorbed in the task at hand: putting the finishing touches on their model cars.
Standing to the side of the runway was a team from Edison Computech 7-8 in Fresno, Calif. Team members nervously rustled through the box of extra supplies they had brought from California. Their car – designed to be one of the smallest in the competition – needed Velcro to ensure the battery would stick.
JJ Sutton, an Edison seventh-grader, gripped the car as other teams’ cars zoomed by on the runway.
“I’d hold it like I’d hold my best friend,” he said.
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The in-the-moment engineering was a signature piece of the National Science Bowl’s middle school competition. Middle-schoolers were tested with quiz bowl questions, as well as with a model car competition that included racing an electric car with a Morton Salt container on top – something intended to demonstrate design and creativity skills.
In the end, Edison’s engineering and quick thinking paid off: It took home first place in the car competition, with a time of 5.97 seconds. The win comes with $500 for the school’s science department, as well as a trophy.
Edison also took third place for excellence in design documents, team members said.
The National Science Bowl’s high school competition began in 1991 and expanded to include a middle school division in 1996. Jan Tyler, the National Science Bowl coordinator, said the Department of Energy’s goal in the annual competition is to foster an excitement for science for students and help solidify science as a career path for them.
The top 16 high school teams and the top eight middle school teams received $1,000 – all money for school science departments.
In the middle school division, Creekside Middle School in Carmel, Ind., won first place Monday in the academic competition.
The competition featured the top 69 high schools and 46 middle schools that won their regional competitions earlier in the year. At the beginning of the weekend-long competition, the schools were grouped into divisions for the competitions and then played one another in a round-robin tournament. The top two teams of each division then went into a double-elimination session.
Nestor Peraza, an Edison eighth-grader, said that his favorite part of the competition was the car challenge. Releasing the car was nerve-wracking, he said – a mistake that cost even a fraction of a second could affect the team’s score.
“I did not let my team down,” he said happily.
After a tiring weekend in Washington, the team agreed it was ready to go home and get some rest.
“It’s a relief to have done all of this and gotten so high in the competition,” Sutton said.
CORRECTION: The story about the National Science Bowl competition incorrectly reported the competition-winning answer, and also incorrectly reported that the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics won the National Science Bowl in 2008.