The questions came rapid fire — name the first human to go into space; calculate the mode of the following nine numbers; who wrote the laws governing the motion of planetary orbit? And the answers flew back almost as quickly — Yuri Gagarin, nine, Johannes Kepler.

Eighteen years after the U.S. Department of Energy launched the National Science Bowl, the regional competition hosted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge continues to attract some of the brightest young minds in Southern California.

"It is really exciting when you are up there and your heart is pumping," said Crescenta Valley High School team captain Samuel Kim, 17. "I feel like science and math describe the world. It is very quantitative and logical. That is why I really like it. I have been interested since I was 7."

The Science Bowl pits teams from area high schools against one another. Using Jeopardy-like buzzers, they answer questions in categories including physics, astronomy, mathematics and biology. The team that wins the regional competition goes on to Washington, D.C., in April, all expenses paid, for the national competition.

The event allows participants to meet students from other schools and compete in a friendly manner, said Kimberly Lievense, manager of JPL's Public Service Office.

"While they are here, they can talk to scientists and engineers; they can visit our visitors center and get a little more exposure to the science world and what we do," Lievense said.

Saturday marked the third time Hoover High School participated in the Science Bowl, said coach and Hoover science teacher Linda Tandy.

"We have so much fun practicing," Tandy said. "It really keeps that brain muscle working."

Competitors squeeze in plenty of at-home practice in between their regular studies, they said.

"There is a lot of adrenaline," said Hoover junior Yervand Azatian. "It is very nerve-racking. It really deals with your emotions, just the tingling sense of knowing something and you want to buzz in — it's ineffable. It is difficult to explain, but the experience is very worthwhile."

Crescenta Valley High School struggled last year, its first entry into the Science Bowl, team coach Orenda Tuason said. So the school invested in its own buzzer system, and the students got to work. On Saturday, they won three of their five challenges in the first round of the competition.

"I think they enjoy competition," Tuason said. "I think they really love the camaraderie."