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3 Utahns win 'nerd fight'

Timp grads are 1st from state to claim victory at national technology bowl

OREM — What properties does concrete gain when you add sodium chloride?

"It speeds up the curing time and is used to prevent freezing in the winter time," Martin Jensen, 18, answers without skipping a beat.

And he could go on.

Jensen and classmates, Wyatt Felt, 18, and Jared Muirhead, 18, are virtual encyclopedias of such "scientific tidbits." The trio, who graduated from Timpanogos High School in June, recently became the first Utahns to earn first place at a national Technology Student Association competition.

Felt, Jensen and Muirhead first won the state Technology Bowl, then joined representatives from 136 schools around the country to flex their brains in Nashville, Tenn. In a "Jeopardy!"-like format, teams answered questions about a broad range of technological subjects ranging from computer-assisted drafting to aerospace engineering.

"We all have different strengths," Muirhead said. "Martin knows a lot about biomedical and construction technology. Wyatt knows a lot about robotics and computers. I know more about the general sciences."

Even for these self-declared "geeks," however, whipping out the solutions to complex scientific questions in a matter of seconds can get nerve-wracking.

The most stressful thing was keeping silent about questions and strategy in between rounds, Felt said. A competition administrator stood by to make sure contestants didn't chat as they waited to compete.

"It was tense, single elimination," Felt said. "It was like 'Ten Little Indians': Two teams would leave and only one would come back."

Getting ready for the competition was no sweat for the men, however. They didn't do any drills, quizzing or extra studying, they said. Muirhead read an encyclopedia before leaving for Tennessee, but, he said, "it didn't help at all."

"It's not something you can just study for," he said. "It's just being a nerd all your life and learning these kinds of things."

Jensen talks science with his microbiologist parents around the dinner table. Muirhead likes to dissect old electronic equipment "just to see how it works." Felt spends an hour each day reading online subscriptions to "Popular Science" and "Science American."

"I enjoy competition," Felt said. "I've just never been good at sports so I have to get into nerd fights like the Technology Bowl."

Winning the Technology Bowl was a last hurrah for the men, who will head off to college in the fall. The team qualified to compete in the national competition last year but were eliminated in the first round.

"A whole bunch of little things went wrong last year — we buzzed in too late, we phrased questions wrong," Muirhead said. "This year was exciting because it was like getting another shot at first place."

Most years the championship goes to an East Coast school, where the Technology Student Association is more popular, said the team's adviser, Kent Jorgensen.

"They have a zillion students and they know how to compete," he said. "They kick our butts out here in the West. We're pretty tickled if we win anything."

Jorgensen, a drafting teacher at Timpanogos High, said he wasn't surprised Felt, Jensen and Muirhead brought home the title, though.

"They're really super smart," he said.