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Van Antwerp takes first at science bowl

A team of five students from Niskayuna Central School District's Van Antwerp Middle School came in first place at the regional competition of the National Science Bowl held Saturday, March 7, at the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna.

The students will head to Washington, D.C., in April to compete in the national event.

In the all-day competition, middle-school students raced hydrogen fuel-cell model cars they had constructed with the help of GE mentors. In the afternoon, they participated in a battle of the brains in a high-energy, question-and-answer tournament where students buzzed in to answer questions about topics including astronomy, chemistry, physics, earth sciences and biology.

I'll speak for myself -- I kind of feel like I'm about to throw up, said Maura Griffith, a Van Antwerp eighth-grader, before the academic competition began.

As the competition started to wind down Saturday afternoon, it came down to a tiebreaker, according to Kapil Singh, Science Bowl committee chairman.

"Niskayuna barely escaped Bethlehem Central. They were neck-to-neck until the last question," said Singh.

It was a tap of a buzzer and a right answer that brought the team to victory for the fifth year in a row.

Although the model car race didn't affect the overall score of the competition, students put their noses to the grindstone to design, build and race the fastest vehicle possible. This part of the competition was designed to test creative engineering skills and also to give students hands-on experience in the automotive design process using hydrogen fuel-cell energy.

"We've been practicing and meeting at a workshop and making the car every Saturday," said Alison Xu, an eighth-grader at Van Antwerp.

Griffith said that the team started with a prototype car, which was similar to the design they used in the actual competition, but they "fiddled around with it" until they "found out what worked."

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