Student wins national science prize

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

One student at Louis and Sarah Block Yeshiva High School earned the top prize in a rigorous national contest testing participants’ knowledge and understanding of science and the way Judaic thought and scientific fact can be interrelated.

Adam Ariel, 17, a junior at Block Yeshiva, won first prize in the Fourth Annual Jerusalem Science Contest in Chicago on March 5, held by the Jerusalem College of Technology and Integrated DNA Technologies, Inc.

Ariel was one of 19 high school juniors and seniors who took part in the contest, which was the culmination of a four-month course of study, lectures and tests. The contest was designed to foster excellence in scientific research along with study of Torah and support of the State of Israel. Each year, the contest takes on a different theme. This year, the theme was astronomy, and students were given a 500-page introductory college-level course and students also studied Judaic sources on astronomy topics, including calculating the age of the universe and calculating the new moon for Rosh Chodesh.

For Ariel, the contest ended several months of studying a college astronomy textbook, two chapters a week, and watching video lectures over the Internet on the topics covered in the book. After the astronomy text was completed, Ariel and the other contestants studied ways astronomy can be applied to Judaism for the final weeks.

Each week, Ariel took multiple-choice quizzes and based on those scores and the score on a final exam, Ariel qualified for the final round, a verbal exam, at the offices of Integrated DNA Technologies in Skokie, Ill, outside Chicago.

Contestants were called one-by-one for questioning, in front of a crowd of science and education professionals.

Ariel said the wait to be called was a bit nerve-wracking, especially since he was the third to the last person called. When he came out for the oral exam, he was given two questions: the first was about the formation of neutron stars and pulsars, and the second asked him to explain a way of reconciling the Judaic and the scientific estimation of the age of the universe, with the Judaic calendar’s 5,767 years with the 15 billion years estimated by scientists.

For the latter question, Ariel explained to the panel that one psalm describes that one day is a thousand years in God’s eyes, and by multiplying each day of the Judaic calendar by 1,000 results in a figure not far from the 15 billion years estimated by scientists.

Ariel said that while he had studied the correlation between science and Judaic thought, he found the course of study for the contest to be, “a much fuller academic perspective” on the subject.

Ariel said it was sometimes a challenge to squeeze in studying astronomy on top of his normal course load at Block, but he managed to make use of his weekends, and after-lunch study period.

As the winner of the contest, Ariel receives a four-year scholarship to Jerusalem College of Technology in Jerusalem and $1,000. He also receives, along with the second through seventh place winners, a 10-day trip to Israel in early June.

Ariel said that despite the scholarship, his college plans are still up in the air. “I’m not sure if I’m going to take it,” he said. “I don’t know if my mom wants me that far away, but I’m considering it and I’m only a junior, so I won’t have to decide until next year.”

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