University High Wins L.A. Ocean Sciences Bowl at NASA’s JPL

The team from University High School in Irvine, California, proved victorious in
The team from University High School in Irvine, California, proved victorious in the 2024 Los Angeles regional Ocean Sciences Bowl tournament at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. From left: senior Julianne Wu, team captain and senior Maia Kopylova, sophomore Angelina Yan, sophomore Matthew Feng, senior Claudia Kahana, and team coach Ruby-Ann Lopez.
The team from University High School in Irvine, California, proved victorious in the 2024 Los Angeles regional Ocean Sciences Bowl tournament at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. From left: senior Julianne Wu, team captain and senior Maia Kopylova, so... Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech"

The annual competition aims to help students expand their ocean-related knowledge outside the classroom and to become environmental stewards.

University High School of Irvine, California, emerged victorious on Jan. 20 at the Los Angeles regional Ocean Sciences Bowl tournament, which NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has hosted annually since 2000.

Eight schools from Los Angeles and Orange counties competed, with Santa Monica High School taking second place and and Torrance High placing third.

"For me," said University High senior Claudia Kahanka, "it’s less about winning and more about interacting with people who are my own age and who are interested in the same things as me. It’s wonderful."

The student teams spend months studying and preparing for the fast-paced academic competition, with contestants tapping "Jeopardy!"-style buzzers before answering challenging questions on science and policy regarding Earth’s oceans.

"We have practices every week - two-hour practices," said team captain Maia Kopylova, a senior at University High. "Each individual studies a specific topic. And then we come together on Discord or in person and practice."

Teams of four to five students have just 5 seconds to answer multiple-choice "buzzer questions," worth 4 points each, in one of eight categories: biology, chemistry, geography, geology, marine policy, physical oceanography, social sciences, and technology. If a student answers a question correctly, they receive a bonus question worth 6 points and have 20 seconds to consult with their teammates before the team captain must provide an answer. They also face a handful of "team challenge questions" in which they can work together for a longer period to come up with an answer.

The JPL event - called the Los Angeles Surf Bowl - was the first of nearly 20 regional Ocean Sciences Bowl competitions across the country. The tournaments are coordinated by the Center for Ocean Leadership, which is a program of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, an organization focused in part on Earth science-related education. The event at JPL is staffed by volunteers from the lab and University of Southern California, several of whom are competition alumni.