The Mira Loma High School team knew the answer: Lambda A equals lambda B.
But they didn't get to the buzzer quickly enough, and North Hollywood High School won the round.
The question was this: Two objects A and B, with masses m sub A and m sub B, are moving with speeds v sub A and v sub B respectively, where m sub A equals 2 m sub B and v sub B equals 2 v sub A. If their De Broglie wavelengths are lambda sub A and lambda sub B, which of the following statements is correct?
"We definitely knew the answer," said junior Rohan Deshpande. His teammates nodded in agreement.
Despite that loss, the local squad beat team after team at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Science Bowl Monday, taking third place.
Teams from the school are accustomed to dominating Science Bowl competitions. Coach and teacher James Hill has taken 13 teams to the National Science Bowl, placing in the top 16 teams almost every year. He said the school has competed at the national level 16 times altogether.
The last five years have been exceptional. Mira Loma won the national competition in 2009 and 2011, and second place in 2008 and 2010.
"We have a reputation," Deshpande said. But teammate Saaket Agrawal was less demure. "It feels good," said the junior. Recent teams have "transformed a legend into a dynasty."
On Wednesday, Deshpande, Agrawal, Sharath Reddy, Siddharth Trehan and Jacky Fu were back at Mira Loma still wearing the green polo shirts that say "National Science Bowl."
Deshpande specializes in physics and astronomy, Trehan biology, Fu energy and Earth science, Reddy biology and Earth science, and Agrawal is the expert in chemistry.
They sat at a long conference table in front of a whiteboard covered with scientific formulas, holding buzzers similar to the ones used at the competition at the National Building Museum in Washington.
The team uses the buzzers to practice for the Jeopardy-style Science Bowl, often taking them home.
The teens said they can't even attempt to add up all the hours they have spent preparing for the regional and national competitions, but there were many. Most spend their vacation and breaks quizzing one another, studying and practicing with the buzzers.
Fast buzzer action is important. The team was eliminated by the North Hollywood team because its captain interrupted the question by buzzing in with the answer a legitimate move that science bowlers practice often. Mira Loma team lost the match 76-72 after a 12-hour day of competition.
The team brought home $1,500 for the school's science program: $1,000 for its third-place win and $500 for winning the Divisional Team Challenge over the weekend. Hill said the money will be used to buy supplemental materials for Science Bowl teams, as well as for science texts.
Hill said the Science Bowl program at Mira Loma usually starts the school year with 60 to 75 students, narrowed down to four teams in the fall. The teams practice and compete against each other before two teams are selected for the regional competition. The team that wins the regional competition goes to nationals.
The Arden Arcade school's science program and its International Baccalaureate program drew the boys in the Science Bowl team to Mira Loma High. Only one actually lives within the school's boundaries two live in the San Juan Unified School District. The others travel from their homes in El Dorado Hills, Folsom and Elk Grove to take part in the program.
All say they are hooked on science and plan to pursue careers in the field.
"It teaches you to be aware of the world around you," Agrawal said. "It encourages curiosity. You are at risk of returning to the Dark Ages if there is no curiosity."