On Saturday, March 1, 120 students from 15 Massachusetts high schools convened at MIT for the 17th annual Blue Lobster Bowl (BLB), an ocean science knowledge competition sponsored by the MIT Sea Grant College Program.
The BLB is part of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB), a program of the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for Oceanographic Leadership, which aims to increase knowledge of the oceans among high school students and teachers and to raise public understanding of the national investment in ocean-related research in a fun, challenging forum.
"High school science education has a lot of emphasis on terrestrial things, and the ocean doesn't get as much attention as it should," says MIT Sea Grant's Kathryn Shroyer, regional co-coordinator for the event. "This quiz bowl competition gives students and teachers the grounds to study and think about the ocean and possible careers in ocean science."
Four-member teams answered questions in the form of rapid-fire multiple choice, short answer, and in-depth written challenge tests in a head-spinning array of ocean science subjects: marine biology, ocean history, policy and engineering, coastal geology, and physical oceanography. The students were quizzed on everything from the role of salinity in ocean circulation (A: It helps drive meridional overturning circulation) to the type of fish used in imitation crabmeat (A: Alaska pollock). Between elimination rounds, groups of T-shirt-clad high schoolers mingled in the hallways, quietly quizzing their teammates on facts such as the year of the Ocean Dumping Act (A: 1972) and the International Year of the Ocean (A: 1998).
The students began preparing for the event early last fall in after-school science clubs, supervised by their teacher coaches. Many joined the competition clubs for the love of science, and along the way learned about the many branches of science that deal with the ocean. “I got involved because ocean science seems to have a big future,” said Becca Xu, a sophomore on Lexington High School Team B.
Each competition room was staffed by six volunteers (timekeeper, moderator, science judge, scorekeeper, rules judge, and runner) who facilitated the long day of science. Sixteen-year BLB veteran Lori Tsuruda '89 coordinated the volunteers, who signed up through the Boston nonprofit “People Making a Difference" and MIT. Local scientists, such as David Wang, a third-year geochemistry PhD student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, provided on-site support in each room to grade the teams’ answers to the three-minute questions, which dealt with material as technical as the climate-change drivers of coastal sediment erosion. Other MIT-affiliated volunteers included Sam Elder, Joy Chen '14, Rachel Keeler '14, Kali Xu '15, Kevin Linke '13, Sarvesh Garimela, Roger Fu, Britta Voss, Marian Tomusiak '77, and Janice St. Clair of the MIT Spouses and Partners Professional Network.
Three new high schools participated in the BLB this year: Fitchburg High School and, from the Boston Public Schools, Jeremiah Burke High School and the Community Academy in Science and Health. “It’s so great to compete not physically, but with our minds,” said Christian Pineda, a student at Fitchburg High School. “We studied so hard. We’re just here to do our best.”
The BLB is also a story of dedicated volunteer leadership, from many adults who have participated since the competition's earliest days. Doug Grant, a chemistry teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, has coached high school teams for all 17 years of the BLB; Lexington High School science teacher Sarah Avon Lewis PhD '03 has coached eight bowls; and Rick Rigazio, a retired U.S. Navy Reserve captain, has been a National Ocean Sciences Bowl volunteer every year since 2002 — “a wonderful gig if you can get it,” he says.
The regional championship title of the 2014 Blue Lobster Bowl at MIT went to Lexington High School’s Team A, with a history of BLB wins. The team will represent Massachusetts at the 17th Annual National Ocean Sciences Bowl finals tournament at the University of Washington in Seattle in May. With ocean acidification as the tournament’s timely theme, Lexington is already hitting the books.