Ryan Dinh slapped at his buzzer so vigorously his glasses nearly fell from his face. But the buzz came from his opponent's table, and so too did the correct answer.
The 16-year-old from Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies sighed, but then quickly refocused. Before the judge could finish asking a question about human immunoglobulins, Ryan's buzzer sounded and he shouted: "IgA!"
The correct answer opened up his teammates' lead against the B-team from North Hollywood High School in the consolation bracket of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Science Bowl. A loss would send them home, but a win would put them back in the hunt for the big prize: a trip to Washington to represent Los Angeles in the U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl.
About 240 students representing 25 schools from around the city participated in the competition at LADWP's downtown headquarters Saturday. The competition tests the students' knowledge — and reflexes — in a television game show-style battle of science, math and technology.
For Ryan and his teammates, their lead would soon dwindle, then vanish altogether. After the final question marking North Hollywood's lopsided win, the teams politely shook hands and went to an auditorium to watch the final rounds.
The students on the Sherman Oaks team had practiced about three hours a week for the last year on top of their already intensive studies, said Mark Rickertsen, their coach and eighth-grade physical science teacher. "They've done it 100% by themselves," he said.
The Sherman Oaks students did much better than expected, far surpassing last year's team. They're already gearing up for next year's competition, where they expects to do even better. "Nobody is graduating yet," Ryan said.
The animated buzzer-push is just part of his competitive nature, Ryan said. It drives him crazy when he knows the answer but is beat to the buzzer by the other team.
"I will do whatever it takes to make sure it never happens again," Ryan said.
The purpose of the Science Bowl is to encourage high school students from all backgrounds to pursue studies and careers in math, science and technology fields. More than $25,000 will be presented to members of teams who place among the top four in the buzzer competition and top four in the Water and Power Community Credit Union Hands-on Competition.
On Saturday night, North Hollywood's A-team was named the winner of the day's competition.