Small Trivia Tournament Sees Big Intellects on Display

By Samuel Lopez, staff writer SPGM
A historic image of the colloquial "Eight Ball" million-liter test sphere.

The bottom of the One-Million-Liter Test Sphere, colloquially known as “the Eight Ball,” as seen during its days of use on what’s now the NCI Frederick campus. The massive metal structure is on the National Register of Historic Places and was the subject of the Final Jeopardy! question in this year’s tournament. (Public domain)

NCI Frederick has a new reigning trivia champion. Alison Murphy, a third-year student at University of Maryland, took first place in the 15th Annual Scientific Library Student Jeopardy! Tournament.

The tournament followed the standard Jeopardy! trivia format with a largely science-focused theme, bringing together student interns to match wits against each other. This year was Murphy’s first time competing—and her first summer as an intern at NCI Frederick.

She leaped into the top spot at the last possible minute, wagering a bundle of her points on the tournament’s Final Jeopardy! question despite being unsure of her answer. A wrong guess would have cost her those points and almost guaranteed a loss. Fortunately for her, however, she had learned just enough about the category—landmarks on Fort Detrick—to make a guess the judges would accept.

“[It] was about the name of the ‘Eight Ball’ at Fort Detrick. I had forgotten the name, but my [principal investigator], Dr. Barchi, had given me a tour of Fort Detrick at the beginning of the summer and showed me the Eight Ball and explained the history of it to me,” she said, referring to the massive metal sphere that was once used in infectious disease studies.

For her win, Murphy received an NCI Frederick baseball cap from the Recreation and Welfare Club Frederick. The R&W Club also gave her and her fellow competitors, Kiersten Ropp and Esteban Garcia, NCI Frederick face masks and t-shirts.

Garcia and Ropp, both interns with Occupational Health Services, answered their own share of trivia, with Garcia even leading the board for most of the championship game. Yet it wasn’t enough to overcome Murphy’s score after the wagers were settled: Garcia placed second, and Ropp placed third.

“It’s always impressive to see how well these students play the game,” said event coordinator and master of ceremonies Alan Doss.

With three competitors, this year’s tournament was smaller than normal. Three additional interns were scheduled to participate but couldn’t attend due to other obligations.

This year was also the third time the tournament had to be held in a virtual format, owing to the pandemic.

Doss, who’s a senior librarian at the Scientific Library when he isn’t posing trivia questions to interns, said the format created challenges but not unsolvable ones. The Scientific Library team applied lessons learned from last year’s two virtual tournaments to this one, with visible benefits. A few bugs aside, the event’s tangle of apps, websites, and videoconferencing software ran smoothly.

Many others also pitched in to make the tournament successful. Beyond the Scientific Library staff, intern Claire Seibert created the trivia questions and categories, along with a trivia slideshow that played during the tournament’s intermission.

Seibert’s mentor, Carrie Wagerman—an NCI at Frederick internship coordinator—was instrumental in helping prepare for the tournament. She and other staff were on hand to help during the event, as well, piling into a special gallery in the video call.

Joining them in the gallery were Dina Sigano, Ph.D.; Walter Hubert, Ph.D.; Stephen Anderson, Ph.D.; and Rebika Shrestha, Ph.D. These four volunteered their time and expertise to adjudicate the tournament and offer rulings on answers to scientific trivia.

“Working with the Library crew and other groups behind the scenes to get it all together is very rewarding. Someone is always willing to jump in and help when anything is needed,” Doss said.

Doss added that he looks forward to the year the tournament can be held in person again. He even hopes to resurrect the tradition of having the interns compete on teams, the standard format for the pre-pandemic tournaments.

As for Murphy, it was enough to rest on the laurels of her victory, focus on the final days of her internship, and prepare for her fall semester of college. Like much of what an internship at NCI Frederick tries to be, the tournament was an enjoyable and educational experience.

“I’m glad that Dr. Barchi pushed me to compete in Jeopardy!, and it will be a fun accomplishment that I will always be able to carry with me,” she said.

Samuel Lopez leads the editorial team in Scientific Publications, Graphics & Media (SPGM). He writes for newsletters; informally serves as an institutional historian; and edits scientific manuscripts, corporate documentation, and a slew of other written media. SPGM is the creative services department and hub for editing, illustration, graphic design, formatting, multimedia, and training in these areas.