History of the PhysicsBowl
Here is an article by Jim Nelson (a former editor) that gives some of the origin of an annual exam put out by AAPT that eventually led to the PhysicsBowl: James Nelson, "AAPT/NSTA high school physics examination" Phys. Teach. 21, 100-103 (February 1983)
Here is an article by Kenneth Fox and Jim Nelson with even more information about the beginnings of physics contests from sections:Doug Fox and Jim Nelson, “Physics contests for high school students,” Phys. Teach. 21, 161–163 (March 1983).
Some more of the development of the contest is seen in documents written by Edward Gettys (another former editor) regarding the "Metrologic Exam" (which morphed into the PhysicsBowl) to the AAPT Test Development Committee (Draft) Feb, 1989and another document written to NSF, May 1989
Courtney Willis, another former editor, provided some more history to the contest by writing
"To give you a bit of background, the exam committee was not originally formed for the PhysicsBowl. It came about because a lot of HS teachers wanted a general test similar to the one the ACS produces for chemistry. The exam committee was formed to produce such a test. The test was then revised every few years (2, 3, or 4 I don’t actually recall). Teachers would buy copies of the test and then give them to their students. The teachers would be provided with the answers and some statistics so they could compare how their students performed. The test was kind of an external benchmark the teachers could use to see how well the year had gone. The results were not submitted nationally. I was very pleased when this test first appeared about 1980 because I was teaching HS physics and chemistry at a small school in the mountains and had used the ACS test for some time and really appreciated having the physics test too. Metrologic (the laser company) was very involved in the educational market at the time and first proposed the PhysicsBowl. Herb Gottlieb was a representative for Metrologic and also a member of the test committee and he proposed a cooperative venture. Metrologic would provide a free laser to the highest scoring school in each region and the AAPT exam committee would write a yearly exam. Thus the exam committee would write a yearly competitive exam for the PhysicsBowl and then also produce a revised introductory exam every so often. In the mid 80’s AAPT started sponsoring the Physics Olympiad and the exam committee had at various times some responsibility helping out there. About 10 years ago the PhysicsBowl had become so popular it had pretty much taken the place of the introductory exam and so it was dropped. There were a number of sponsors for the next few years. For a while there were scholarships for the top students nationally and regionally and I think this also helped fuel the growth of the PhysicsBowl."One of the biggest changes to the contest took place in 2002 when a second division was introduced.
Previously, all students answered the 40 questions, but as the contest became more competitive, two
divisions became necessary. The contest has retained this feature ever since.
Not only has the contest itself changed, but also its sponsors. In the subsequent years, Metrologic
eventually moved on to other endeavors (after 2001) and Knowles Science Teaching Foundation was one of
the sponsors (2002) until Frey Scientific and Texas Instruments became sponsors starting in 2003. In 2009,
Vernier Scientific also became a yearly sponsor and the number of sponsors was increased in 2011 to include
several other companies such as Educational Innovations, Inc., John Wiley & Sons, Pasco Scientific, and
Princeton University Press.
Finally, the contest has evolved in format greatly in the past few years. Previously, the exam was
printed and mailed to teachers, but this option was phased out in 2011. Instead, a PDF form can be
mailed to instructors for copying. In addition, there now is a totally online version of the contest
available from WebAssign which started in 2008.
Finally, a recent article about the PhysicsBowl appeared in TPT: Michael C. Faleski, “25 Years of AAPT's PhysicsBowl,” Phys. Teach. 48, 156-157 (March 2010).