By Robin Meckley, Contributing Writer
The category was “General Science,” and the clue read: “Named for an Italian scientist, it is the scientific number of molecules in 1 gram mole of any substance.” Everything depended on knowing the correct response and wagering enough points.
The top three teams in the Scientific Library’s seventh annual Student Science Jeopardy Tournament, two of which were tied, faced this Final Jeopardy clue head-on, hoping to come out on top. All three teams had the correct response, “What is Avogadro’s number?”, but only one team bet all their points, 14,400, to win the tournament.
Eighteen interns from local high schools and colleges competed in teams of two in the annual July science event for students, which mirrors the popular TV show “Jeopardy.” Students were challenged with mastering the signaling devices and knowing the correct responses. An audience of more than 70 people attended to support the students.
The Winning Teams
This year, Team E, Jen Hofmann and Theo Nikolaitchik, came in first, with 28,800 points; second place went to Team D, Pushkar Aggarwal and Edward Liang, with 19,400 points; and third place went to Team B, Nikhil Gowda and Madelyne Xiao, the returning champions from 2012, with a score of 17,100 points.
The other players in the tournament included Janine Bahsali, Esther Shafer, Joseph Bergman, Colin Burr, Katie Goetz, Monica Gouzoulis, Dahlia Kronfli, Megan Mounts, Harrison Boyce, Avilash Das, Ayush Goyal, and Amil Sahai. The two players on the alternate team were Swathi Penumutchu and Renee Purtscher.
The First-Place Team
Hofmann, a senior from Tuscarora High School and a drum major in the marching band, is an intern in the Center for Cancer Research (CCR) Nanobiology Program under the supervision of Kirill Afonin, Ph.D. Afonin said that Hofmann is “learning the basic techniques of RNA biology,” and is helping on “several research projects dealing with RNA-based therapeutic nanoparticles.” Afonin said that he chose to work with Hofmann because she exhibited an excitement for science. “Her desire to be a part of our team made her stand out from the other applicants. She was able to cohesively answer my interview questions in a knowledgeable manner,” he said.
Hofmann said she enjoyed playing in the Student Science Jeopardy Tournament, and was surprised by how close the contest was. “I certainly didn’t anticipate it to be such a down-to-the-wire competition,” she said. “Although my partner, Theo, and I knew almost every answer, we were having trouble buzzing in time.” Hofmann was no stranger to “Jeopardy.” “Being a long-time ‘Jeopardy’ fan, I have always wanted to say ‘Let’s make it a true Daily Double, please.’ And because luck was on our side, I ended up saying it twice in the span of a few hours,” she said.
Nikolaitchik, also a Tuscarora High School senior, joined the Gene Regulation and Chromosome Biology Laboratory, CCR, under mentor Tom Schneider, Ph.D., as a student intern in June. “Theo is using our information-theory-based tools, including sequence logos and sequence walkers, to construct a model of the gene CTCF,” Schneider said.
Both Nikolaitchik and Hofmann were involved in academic teams in school, so when they heard about the Student Science Jeopardy Tournament, they signed up as a team. On tournament day, Nikolaitchik was unsure about his team’s success because he and Hofmann were facing “some of the brightest kids from the surrounding schools.” Although Nikolaitchik said that his team “won because of a great influx of luck,” audience members said they watched a bold and smart team take advantage of opportunities to earn the victory.
“… One of the highlights of my summer …”
Hofmann and Nikolaitchik hope to compete in the 2014 Jeopardy Tournament. “Competing in the … tournament was definitely one of the highlights of my summer, and I would highly recommend it to any [student intern] next year,” Hofmann said. Nikolaitchik said “that hour shall stand as one of the most nail-biting in my life. I hope to enter again next year and … match wits with some of the most intelligent people around.”
Returning judges Dina Sigano, Ph.D., technical laboratory manager, Chemical Biology Laboratory, Center for Cancer Research, and Jim Cherry, Ph.D., scientific advisor, NCI Office of Scientific Operations, were able to resolve the few disputes that arose over questionable responses. “It was great to see so many students attend and be so into the contest,” Cherry said. Sigano said she enjoyed her participation this year and is looking forward to next year’s event.
“The Scientific Library staff was very pleased with the attendance at this year’s event,” said Sue Wilson, principal manager of the Scientific Library. “At the exciting climax of the contest, the audience cheered loud and long for the three teams, bringing the noise to an eardrum-shattering level.”
The winning teams: from left, Team E, Theo Nikolaitchik and Jen Hofmann; Team D, Edward Liang and Pushkar Aggarwal; and Team B, Nikhil Gowda and Madelyne Xiao