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Vassar Team Wins 25th Annual Chemistry BowlIntercollegiate Event Is Always a Lighthearted Affair

What are the three most abundant elements in the universe?

What element is named after a western state?

How much nickel is there in a nickel?

If you know the answers to some or all of these questions, you might have done well at Vassar’s 25th annual Chemistry Bowl.

Founded and officiated by Prof. of Chemistry Christopher Smart, the competition pits teams from Vassar and other colleges -- and some local high schools – in a rapid-fire event modeled after the old “College Bowl” TV quiz show. “I’ve always been a big trivia buff,” Smart said, “so when I first came to Vassar in 1993, I decided to organize this competition as part of our observation of National Chemistry Week, the third week of October.”

The ‘Nitrous Oxide’ squad, determined to defend its crown: (left to right) Niharika Shukla, Brenda Dzaringa and James Bonnano.

Smart says it’s always been a light-hearted event, composed of teams with names like “The Sub-Atomics,” “Schrodinger’s Cat” and “The Fig Neutrons.” And while the questions obviously require some knowledge of chemistry, Smart strives to ensure that folks other than chemistry majors have a chance to win. Two years ago, a team from nearby Spackenkill High School out-dueled all of the college teams and walked away with the grand prize, beaker-shaped coffee mugs donated by Ace Glass, a manufacturer of laboratory glassware and scientific equipment.

Last year’s winners of the beaker-shaped mugs were three Vassar neuroscience majors, Niharika Shukla ’20, James Bonnano ’20, and Brenda Dzaringa ’20, were back to try to defend their title. (A fourth member of last year’s team, Sharen Rivas ’20, is studying abroad this fall and couldn’t be part of this year’s team.)

When they were victorious last year, Smart told them they were the first students of his ever to win the event. He added that no defending champion had ever successfully defended its crown, and that streak continued. Another Vassar squad, ‘My Chemical Romance,’ captured this year’s event.

Smart says no one takes the competition too seriously, and there have never been any significant disputes. “I announce at the start that I am the final arbiter on all matters, and everyone accepts that,” he said. “We’re all there to have fun, and it’s great to have this interaction with the other colleges every year.”

In case any readers are wondering, Smart has supplied the answers to the questions posed above:

  • The three most abundant elements in the universe are hydrogen, helium and oxygen;
  • The element named after a western state is Californium;
  • That nickel in your pocket is 25-percent nickel and 75-percent copper.