Project boards lined the tables. Students chitchatted in the hallways.
This wasn't a science fair – it was National History Day.
About 1,000 students from across the state on Saturday descended on Sacramento's Red Lion Woodlake Hotel in a quest to be the best historian.
"This is about bringing history to life," said Rob Vicario, state coordinator for National History Day in California.
The 29th annual competition started Friday and culminates today with an awards ceremony. Participants are asked to communicate history through a video documentary, display board, website or historical paper.
This year, the theme is "Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events." Contestants were grouped into three divisions – elementary school (fourth-fifth grades), middle school (sixth-eighth grades) and high school (ninth-12th grades). They could compete as individuals or in teams.
The state champions will advance to the national competition, scheduled June 9-13 in College Park, Md. The three-day get-together in Sacramento was the result of a year's work for most students.
Sacramento's Aishwarya Nadgauda, 16, isn't a stranger to the event, having competed in National History Day for five years.
Her project this year focused on the "first controlled nuclear chain reaction," which occurred during World War II at the University of Chicago. Nadgauda said the event contributed to the development of the atomic bomb.
"I got to interview people who I otherwise wouldn't have been able to talk to," she said, when asked why she chose the topic.
The 10th-grader from Sacramento Country Day School had to consult several nuclear experts, including a professor at UC Davis.
"What I learn here – communication – is going to help me for any other career," she said, while practicing math problems for a test.
Melissa Lawson, one of the event judges, said the students who participate tend to excel in all subjects, much like Nadgauda. Lawson teaches English at Folsom Middle School, which sent 15 students to compete in eight sections.
Marvin Awbry, 75, of Fresno is a retired history teacher with 40 years of experience. He is called "founding father" and for good reason – Awbry was one of the first coordinators for National History Day in the state.
On Saturday, he was still hard at work, eating a sandwich between breaks in judging.
"Once they get started, you can hardly stop them," he said of the students.
Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.