Spring Jeopardy! Tournament a Success; Annual Summer Tournament Nears

By Samuel Lopez, staff writer
Screenshot of the Spring Jeopardy Tournament's questions board and player avatars

A question displays above the interns’ avatars on day two of the competition.

A potato, puffin, pineapple, orange, and lemon stood behind small electronic scoreboards. White text, read aloud by the Scientific Library’s Alan Doss, materialized on a blue field above their heads.

“Every action has an equal and opposite…”

The scoreboard in front of the potato flashed, and a microphone crackled open. Werner H. Kirsten (WHK) intern Owen Doughty spoke across the line, completing the phrase (“What is ‘reaction’?”) and clinching the first 100 points on day two of the spring Student Jeopardy! Tournament.

The tournament has been an annual summertime fixture at NCI at Frederick for 14 years, but this one was unusual. Instead of piling into in Building 549’s auditorium, as they would traditionally do, the judges, spectators, and competitors—WHK student interns—gathered on a Webex call. The scoreboard and questions were displayed through screensharing. An app on the interns’ smartphones replaced the traditional buzzers. Onscreen, anthropomorphic animals and food items represented the competitors.

Last year’s tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic, but this year, the Scientific Library and WHK interns Yasmine Zouhairi and Leslie Hilares collaborated to coordinate a virtual event so the show could go on.

It was a special arrangement that has made 2021 doubly special: NCI at Frederick gets two tournaments. According to Tracie Frederick, Scientific Library manager, and Cathy Cullen, Zouhairi and Hilares’ mentor in the Office of Scientific Operations, the virtual format means the recent spring tournament was a “test drive” for the main event—the summer tournament.

The summer tournament will be held virtually on Friday, July 2, at noon. All employees and contractors are invited to spectate over Webex and support the competing interns. The interns, meanwhile, must register by June 18 to participate.

While the pandemic continues to change traditions in unusual ways, the spring tournament demonstrated that new arrangements work—and that they can be fun.

Two rounds on day one saw groups of interns facing off to answer scientific trivia in categories ranging from lab safety to biochemistry to physics. A “Miscellaneous” category with pop culture questions added a twist to keep competitors on their toes.

A connection issue—the only major technical glitch of the two-day event—disconnected WHK intern Arianna Robinson from her spot in the first round, narrowing the field by one competitor. Later, fellow intern Stephanie Parker won the round by a 400-point margin over Hilares, who took second place.

In a nod to the intern–Library partnership driving the event, Hilares moderated the second round, stepping into Doss’ shoes. Competing intern Connor Herfurth held the lead for most of the round and won with more than 3,000 points.

Day two featured one normal round and the round of champions. Isabelle Liu won the normal round after triumphing in a “Final Jeopardy!” question on Newton’s law of cooling. The victory secured her seat in the round of champions alongside Parker and Herfurth.

The championship came with new categories—anything from mathematics to meteorology to genetics—forcing the three finalists to think on their feet. The “Final Jeopardy!” question even delved into quantum mechanics. Parker answered correctly, and her wager brought her final score to 5,050, enough to take first place.

The July tournament will follow a similar format, with three rounds and a championship round playing out over that Friday afternoon. Doss and a handful of interns will moderate the event, and NCI at Frederick scientists will serve as judges.

“Although they are welcome to attend the entire tournament, we aren’t expecting spectators and non-interns to watch the whole time but are hoping that they will be able to stop in when they have time,” Frederick said.

It’s a chance to support the Library, the intern community, and a beloved tradition that endures despite the pandemic. For trivia buffs, it also may be chance to test one’s own knowledge.

Perhaps most of all, it’s a chance to be amazed at the brilliant crop of students who will call NCI at Frederick their professional home, albeit in a virtual format, this summer.

More information about the July tournament is available on the Scientific Library’s website.

Karolina Wilk contributed reporting on this article.


Samuel Lopez is a technical editor in Scientific Publications, Graphics & Media (SPGM), where he writes for NCI at Frederick and Frederick National Laboratory’s news outlets; manages the day-to-day operations of the Poster newsletter; informally serves as an institutional historian; and edits scientific manuscripts, corporate documentation, and a slew of other written media. SPGM is the facilities’ creative services department and hub for editing, illustration, graphic design, formatting, and multimedia training and support.