By Robin Meckley, Contributing Writer
Every year for the past three years, student interns Madelyne Xiao and Nikhil Gowda have competed in the Scientific Library’s Student Science Jeopardy Tournament, the annual science event for students that mirrors the popular TV show “Jeopardy.” And every year, for the past three years, Xiao and Gowda, who work with Randall Johnson, Ph.D. bioinformatics analyst, Basic Science Program Center for Cancer Research (CCR) Genetics Core, have finished in one of the top three positions.
In their first year, 2012, they swept through all the rounds and easily came out on top. In 2013, they met their match when two other teams competed equally hard. A low wager on the final clue netted them third place.
This year, they were not going to be denied the top prize. They were heavily challenged in the preliminary round, where they faced last year’s winners, but were able to prevail. In the final round, they sealed their victory when they were the only team to provide the correct response to the final clue: “This term for the lowest level of the ocean that the sun’s rays can reach shares its name with a 1960s TV anthology show.” The correct response was “What is ‘The Twilight Zone’?”
“The questions were a bit more difficult than last year,” Xiao said. “Otherwise, the format of the competition was pleasantly familiar—Ms. Meckley’s ‘Alexa Trebek,’ the lock-out buzzer system, and the game’s answer-in-the-form-of-a-question quirk felt like old friends.”
Gowda asked, “What would summers at FNL [Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research] be without the Scientific Library’s Science Jeopardy? This year, as usual, the questions often came down to the battle of the clickers, where all the teams struggled to master the art of buzzing in as fast as possible without being locked out.”
This was the eighth year that the Scientific Library has sponsored the tournament, which drew 18 students, playing in teams of two. The other players who helped make the tournament a competitive event included Luxi Qiao and Neil Tiwari, the second place team; Vincent Homman and Anthony Poole, the third place team; Jen Hofmann and Theo Nikolaitchik; Anna Purtscher and Victoria Baskerville; Katie Goetz and Rebecca Matthews; Julia Kulina and Michael Digles; Avilash Das and Kundan Chintamaneni. Brigdet Njeri and Similoluwan Adeoye, the alternate team, were able to play when another team dropped out of the tournament.
Goetz, a returning player, persuaded her friend Matthews to play this year. “Although I was initially hesitant to compete, … I’m so glad I did,” Matthews said. “The atmosphere wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I’d imagined, and the staff was friendly and supportive. There aren’t too many opportunities to get to know the other interns here at Detrick other than at lunch, but Jeopardy is definitely one of the few.”
First-time player Kulina observed, “I thought it was cool seeing how diverse the group of interning students was in their fields of knowledge. I had a lot of fun even though I lost in the preliminary round.”
The three judges were veterans of the Jeopardy Tournament, and were above accepting bribes, although Howard Young, Ph.D., deputy laboratory chief, Laboratory of Experimental Immunology, admitted, “I will accept chocolate.” Young and Jim Cherry, Ph.D., scientific program director, Office of Scientific Operations, both donated refreshments for everyone to enjoy, as did the Scientific Library staff. Loyal Student Jeopardy fan and judge Dina Sigano, Ph.D., technical laboratory manager, Chemical Biology Laboratory, CCR, almost didn’t make the event due to car trouble, but she managed to get there just in time for the tournament. “I love this event,” Sigano said.
A large crowd of people attended the event, both in person, and, for the first time, remotely, from the Advanced Technology Research Facility (ATRF). Helping with the ATRF videocast was Tracie Frederick, a technology informationist at the Scientific Library, who observed the attendees getting caught up in the game. “Just like at home, they were calling out the responses to the clues,” Frederick said. The Conference Center staff in Building 549 and at the ATRF used their technical expertise for the smooth transmission of the contest to all locations.
Student Science Jeopardy participants, left to right, front row: Anna Purtscher, Victoria Baskerville, Madelyne Xiao, Jen Hofmann, Brigdet Njeri; middle row: Julia Kulina, Rebecca Matthews, Vincent Homman, Neil Tiwari, Luxi Qiao, Michael Digles, Similoluwan Adeoye; back row: Katherine Goetz, Anthony Poole, Nikhil Gowda, Theo Nikolaitchik, Avilash Das, Kundan Chintamaneni
Winning teams with Robin Meckley, far left, and Dina Signao, judge, far right. Teams are, left to right and front to back: First Place: Madelyne Xiao and Nikhil Gowda; Second Place: Luxi Qiao and Neil Tiwari; and Third Place: Vincent Homman and Anthony Poole.