Santa Monica High School students won the U.S. Department of Energy's National Science Bowl on Monday, beating 66 other schools that included nine from California. The team provided the correct answer to an advanced calculus question to clinch the title.
For the Santa Monica squad, its sixth trip to the national finals was the charm. The school placed third in 2006. In one round in the tournament, the team was down 70 points and needed to answer the final six questions correctly to avoid being eliminated.
"They did not crack under pressure," said Coach Ingo Gaida, a science teacher at the school. "I'd been telling them all year long they had the potential to do this. This was the strongest team we've ever had."
The team began preparing for the bowl in September, and since January had been practicing daily in the fields of math, earth science, astronomy, biology, chemistry and geology. The level of difficulty of some questions in the final round was equivalent to graduate school, Gaida said.
The question that clinched the win: "For the Maclaurin series of the function e2x, what is the coefficient for the x4, in the simplest form?" Answer: 2/3.
"There were some close games, but I always felt like we had a good chance to win," said Dimitry Petrenko, 18, a senior who has been on the team for three years. "I feel satisfied, almost relieved like I've done my job and can graduate."
The other team members are Alexandre Boulgakov, 16, Marino Di Franco, 16, and Ian Scheffler, 17. The team won a trip to the International Youth Science Forum in London this summer, $1,000 for the school's science department and a 6-foot-high trophy.
More than 300 high school students competed in the weekend finals and Monday's championship match, which was held at the National Building Museum in Washington.
Sacramento's Mira Loma High School placed second and won $1,000 and a trip to a nuclear science facility in France. Three other California schools -- Albany High School, North Hollywood High School and Homestead High School in Cupertino -- placed in the top 16.