Four years ago, Falmouth High School didn’t have a science team.

This weekend, the school will send five seniors to Washington, D.C., to compete in the 20th annual National Science Bowl hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Falmouth students will represent Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont against 67 teams from across the nation. They will field complicated and wide-ranging questions that test their knowledge of biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, astronomy and math.

The three-year-old team, which is still new to the competition’s rapid-fire, verbal format, earned a surprising victory at the 10th annual Northern New England Science Bowl, at the University of Southern Maine in February.

It was the Falmouth team’s first science bowl. After trailing nearly 20 other teams for most of the day, the Falmouth students found themselves in the final round, going head-to-head with a team from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone.

Each team was asked 10 questions and given five seconds to answer each one. When the Falmouth students answered only two questions correctly, they thought they had lost. Then, they learned that the team from Limestone, which won the regional bowl in 2006, had only one question right.

“We were shocked when we won,” said Alyssa Yeung, the Falmouth team’s founder. “None of us was expecting it.”

The team also distinguished itself for its calm and cooperative behavior, which is emphasized at science bowls.

“It’s a high-stress event. It’s always nice if the team that wins is collegial and works together well,” said Rob Sanford, an earth science professor at USM who organizes the regional competition each year.

Idexx and National Semiconductor sponsor the regional meet.

Given the tough questions and intense competition, decorum isn’t exactly easy to maintain, said Andrew Njaa, a Falmouth High physics teacher who coaches the science team.

Questions are asked and answered verbally.

Participants may jot down questions, but they have little time to work out long chemistry and math problems or pick the right option in multiple-choice questions.

“The scary thing is, some teams will have the answer as soon as you finish asking the question,” Sanford said.

Yeung started the Falmouth team three years ago with a few other students.

A strong science student who’s also a member of the school’s math, science, Frisbee and volleyball teams, Yeung wanted to re-create the experience she had at her middle school in Indiana.

Initially, Falmouth’s team competed only in the Maine Science Olympiad.

Last year, it grew to 15 students and won $30,000 for an air-quality project developed for the national online Lexus Eco Challenge. The students shared $20,000 in scholarships and the balance went to the school and the coach.

This year, with 25 members in four grades, the team aimed for the regional science bowl. After a few practice runs against a team from Greely High School in Cumberland, the Falmouth students topped a field at the regional meet that included teams from Cape Elizabeth and Bangor, recent regional title winners.

In Washington this weekend, the Falmouth team will face tougher questions and better-trained teams. In other parts of the United States, science bowl teams are more common, Sanford said.

Still, northern New England will be well represented in the competition, which starts Sunday and concludes Monday.

In addition to Yeung, who plans to enter the pre-med program at Indiana University in the fall, the Falmouth team is: Ryan Gao, who plans to study science and math at Stanford University; Ben Snowdon, who plans to study biomedical engineering at Duke University; Chadwick Prichard, who plans to study business at the University of Pennsylvania; and Tyler Evers, who plans to enter the pre-med program at Colby College or the University of Rochester.

What they take away from the experience remains to be seen. They could return with a trophy or a prize, such as $1,000 for their school’s science programs or an expenses-paid research trip to study the ecosystems of Belize in Central America.

“We don’t really know what to expect,” Yeung said. “We have the idea that the questions and the competition will be more difficult. But mostly we just want to have fun and get the most out of it that we can.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]