Click photo to enlarge
Members of Hayward's Mount Eden High School's National Science Bowl team walk to their next competition during the 2013 Bay Area Regional Science Bowl competition held at Las Positas College in Livermore, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. One of the 24 high schools competing in the round-robin "Jeopardy-like" quiz format competition will receive a trip to Washington D.C. to compete in the National Science Bowl finals in April. Some 40 to 50 volunteers from Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory helped run the event that is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

LIVERMORE -- The five players and their coaches pressed into a tight circle and raised their joined hands and voices in a rally cry before the opening round of the competition.

"One. Two. Three," they yelled. "GRAVITY."

Then the team from Mt. Eden High School in Hayward stepped through a college classroom door Saturday morning to compete in a regional National Science Bowl, a federally sponsored boot camp for young scientists, mathematicians, physicists and engineers.

As some 9,000 other high schoolers compete in similar regionals around the country this winter, 24 teams mostly from the East Bay faced off at Las Positas College in Livermore in a fast-paced question-and-answer quiz for more than six hours Saturday.

Students faced a barrage of complex science and math questions and problems under strict time limits.

"The NFL has its player camps to find the its future football players. We have the science bowl to help develop and encourage the scientists of tomorrow," said Tim Shepodd, the regional bowl coordinator who works as a scientist at the Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore. "This is their day to shine."

Answering questions under pressure builds up students' confidence and stokes interest in science, organizers said.

There's another perk, too. Regional competition winners get an expense-paid trip to the Department of Energy's National Science Bowl competition in Washington, D.C., in April.

The team from Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon won the top spot to advance to the national final. The winning team members are Augustine Chemparathy, Saranesh Prembabu, Wesley Wang, Bibhav Poudel and Rishi Krishnan. The team coach is Cathy Huang.

In the opening round, the Mt. Eden High team quickly fell behind Alameda High School under a blitz of tough questions fired out by the moderator. One question was to identify all the factors that affect the degree of crystallinity in polymers.

Brandon Le, a junior, scored Mt. Eden's first points with a correct math answer.

Joe Joseph Berry, a senior, added more points by answering that diffraction is a reaction of light because of confinement of its pathways.

"I was a little nervous at first," Berry said after his team lost the round. "But I felt better once we got going."

The Mt. Eden bowl team coach, physics teacher Ernest Irish, said students benefit from being exposed to the best and brightest of Bay Area science students who likely will compete with them later in college and in the job world.

Coaches of the science bowl team from Monte Vista High School in Danville said competition fosters appreciation of mastering knowledge in different science fields to solve problems.

"I feel a little nervous when our team gets life sciences questions, but I feel good when they get math. They are very strong in math," said Scott Getty, a Monte Vista teacher and assistant coach of the bowl team.

His assessment proved on target minutes later when Vishal and Varun Jain of the Monte Vista team calculated the answer to a math question nearly as quickly and neatly as any baseball shortstop throwing out a runner.

"Correct," the moderator answered.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff