The Penn State Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Petrobowl team rallied to win third place — the best in team history — at the international competition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, but the road there was just as exciting as the finish.
At the Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition held on Sept. 26, Penn State was battling other SPE student chapter teams in a quick-fire quiz show, answering petroleum and natural gas engineering industry-related questions, and trailed the University of Louisiana at LaFayette in a battle to compete for the title.
Penn State, trailing by one question with three minutes left in a 20-minute game, correctly answered a toss-up question against the University of Louisiana at LaFayette, and began responding to a bonus question to pull within one point. That’s when Louisiana challenged.
What followed was a 10-minute debate.
In the end, the judges couldn’t decide the outcome and opted to toss the question — and the bonus question — and when Louisiana correctly answered the next toss-up question it put Penn State too far behind on the scorecard.
“That was probably one of the longest appeals in Petrobowl history,” said Penn State player and Ph.D. candidate in energy and mineral engineering Nirjhor Chakraborty, adding, “it was a sledgehammer to the chest.”
Still, that’s quite a finish for the team. In the regionals alone, the team battled 125 other schools before claiming a $4,000 prize among 32 teams traveling to Dubai, the best in school history. The Newsham, Comisky, Apache Endowment in Petroleum Engineering and the Penn State SPE student chapter provided support for the student travel to Dubai.
Team captain Venkat Putcha, also a Ph.D. candidate in energy and mineral engineering, said their training strategy paid off. They got a lot of help from former and current teammates and spent months mimicking the feel and flow of the game, even using buzzers in practice.
“We simulate an experience when we are practicing that feels just like a Petrobowl competition, said Putcha. “We want to do smart work, not just hard work.”
In the weeks leading up to Dubai, the team practiced every day for three hours. It was like taking a couple of extra courses, said Putcha. Before fall semester began, when teammates were scattered across the globe, they linked up through Google Hangouts.
Teammates Liyang Liu, Wei Liu, and Nur Syamieza also traveled to Dubai, while Charles Setia and Muhamad Hakimi helped the team prepare beforehand. Former team members Aniruddh Guru and Prashant Sridhar also helped the team prepare while students Adam Larson, Penn State SPE student chapter president, and Amanda Krolczyk, SPE student chapter treasurer, managed travel, accommodations and promotion for the team.
Putcha said the team, after hitting a hiccup in the qualifiers to take fourth, breezed through the competition in Dubai. That is, until the University of Louisiana at LaFayette.
“Until the semifinal, it was pretty straightforward. We were not even looking at the scoreboards, said Putcha. “We were just focused on buzzing in when we knew the answer. For the semifinals, where we lost to Louisiana, I think we felt the pressure.”
But they quickly rebounded, dispatching the Colorado School of Mines in the battle for third place. It was a reward after falling to them in a battle for third in 2014 Petrobowl competition, held in Amsterdam in 2014. Louisiana took second, falling to Universidade Federal Do Rio De Janeiro, which won the $10,000 top prize.
“My personal motivation, apart from the adrenaline of quizzing, was I wanted a prize for Penn State before Dr. (Turgay) Ertekin, head of our department, retires,” said Putcha. “He’s my adviser. He’s offered a lot of support, and I think I lot of students respect him, and like me are inspired by him.”