High school science fair competition is about learning and doing

Kevin Burchill presents his research on sunscreen health to a judge. — Photo by Meg Higgins

In science, learning and doing go hand in hand. The students who participated in the 12th Annual Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Science Fair Saturday designed experiments and investigative projects following the scientific method, and addressed questions inspired by the world around them. Their projects ran the gamut from the never-ending study of bread mold to innovative projects in a wide range of topics.

Saturday’s fair buzzed with the energy of more than 200 high school students, 30 judges, a dozen volunteers, science teachers and onlookers. Prior to opening, the students stood ready to present their findings, and the judges and interested onlookers were eager to see what they’d found.

The complete list of winners accompanies this article at mvtimes.com.

Jackie Hermann teaches earth science and has been organizing the MVRHS science fair for two years.

“This is our twelfth annual fair,” Ms. Hermann said. “We have well over two hundred participants — one hundred fifty investigative projects and fifty wind turbines. We start the projects in September or October to look at the scientific method of inquiry. The students’ proposals were approved in November. We proceed to test the project and hypothesis. Some of them have been working on them for months.”

The fair’s 15 winners will go to a regional fair at Bridgewater State College, on March 12. There are six regions in Massachusetts, and the finalists from the regional fair will go on to the state fair in May.

Caroline Evans, a retired physics teacher who substitutes at the high school, was one of the judges. “I just did one in there,” Ms. Evans said, in the final hour on judging, “two freshman girls on cake baking and eggs. They chose this project because one of their friends is allergic to eggs. Another was a project on lactose intolerance. These kids are getting their ideas from something where they communicate with someone else. They get their ideas from people around them.”

Katharine Johnson designed a contraption to start a coffee maker in at least 15 steps. She says that she was inspired by the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” The contraption filled a large box, which housed a series of ramps, springs, and funnels leading to a small coffeemaker. She took on the challenge of designing the coffee-starter as a way to help herself get up and going in the morning. She won third place in Engineering Design, and a sustainability award.

Antone Lima, an 11th grader, made a methane digester to create bio-gas. “You can maybe run a small camp stove off of it for 15 seconds,” he said of his second design. “I started this project in late November. It’s taken a while to work out the kinks and design what I wanted: a way to produce methane gas that can be used as a fuel source, like propane. I figured out that it wasn’t really feasible to have a small methane digester that is actually worth it. You really need a big one. The first didn’t work out, so I made a second that does work, and I have plans for a third, which will be much larger and have a different filtering system for the gas.” Antone won a sustainability award for his project.

Nearby, Charlotte McCarron, a freshman, had measured nitrogen levels in Island ponds. “This is my first science fair,” she said. Her hypothesis: “If the area surrounding a pond on Martha’s Vineyard is densely populated, then the nitrogen level of a pond’s water will be high.” Her results, however, didn’t live up to her expectations.

“I didn’t have a test kit that was exact enough to see differences between the ponds,” she explained. “I got vague results. The ponds all have nitrogen levels between zero and one ppm [parts per million].” She won the Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute Award. Charlotte said that she is interested in doing further research about Martha’s Vineyard’s environment.

Ashleigh Plante’s project studied manure tea. “The experiment was about trying to determine which manure was best for growing plants. I used wheat grass. The mix grew the tallest grass, and it was very healthy. Even though the chicken manure produced very dark green grass, it wasn’t tall, and it flopped over,” she said.

Her display was topped by a quote from Allen Whiting: “Without manure, there is no soil. Without soil, nothing will grow. If nothing grows, nothing eats; if nothing eats, there is no manure. Without manure…”

Mr. Whiting stopped by with his family to see her entry. Ashleigh’s display included pictures of herself with some of the Whiting farm animals who had provided manure for her experiment. She won the Island Grown Initiative Award.

At the far end of the cafeteria, the physics students, who are mostly seniors and some juniors, grouped around a wind tunnel to test their wind turbines. Each turbine was hooked up to a digital multimeter, which measures current and voltage, multiplied to get wattage. Volunteer Marylee Carlomagno recorded the results. Unlike the investigative projects, the turbines were judged solely on their electrical output.

Dr. James Porter Grand Prize Science Fair Award Winners

1. William Trapp: Castle Defender

2. Charlotte Hall: Hydrogen — Fuel of the Future

3. Nathaniel Horwitz: Are Your Cleaning Habits Poisoning the Environment

Wind Turbine Engineering GenOn Innovative Energy Awards

1. Liam Wallace and Riley Donegan

2. Jesse Thomas and Cal Fiore

3. Emily Lowe

Special Topic Awards

Cape Light Compact Award (for an energy-related project)

Amy Fligor: Plugging Into the Sun

Maya Harcourt: French Fry Fuel

The David Brand Award (for an outstanding earth science project)

Taylor Gramkowski: Is the Earth Experiencing Polarity Reversal?

Friends of Sengekontacket Award (for a project on water quality or salt marsh ecology)

Nathaniel Horwitz: Are Your Cleaning Habits Poisoning the Environment?

Island Grown Initiative Award (for a project that focuses on agricultural systems and techniques that support biodiversity or address traditional or historic island agriculture)

Ashley Plante: Is Manure Tea Good for Me?

Lagoon Pond Award (for a project that addresses a water quality issue with application to the protection of water resources on Martha’s Vineyard)

Luke Sudarsky: Pollution In Our Drinking Water

Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute Award (for an outstanding marine or coastal science project that might include any aspect of science, fishing, engineering, or conservation)

Charlotte McCarron: Got Nitrogen?

Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association Award (for a project that focuses on increasing the awareness and understanding of aspects of our marine environment — provided in memory of Charlie Barr)

Eva Faber: Blue Claw Crabs In Martha’s Vineyard Great Ponds

Sustainability Awards (presented to the top male and female projects that involve the recycling or reuse of materials for a new purpose, or that involve methods of reducing energy or materials consumption, sponsored by the Munn Family)

Antone Lima: Methane Digester

Katie Johnson: Caffeinated Contraption

The Science of Art Award (for projects that involve the evaluation of materials used in creative expression)

Mia Benedetto: Correlation Between Key and Type of Song

Category Winners


1. Eva Faber: Blue Claw Crabs In Martha’s Vineyard Great Ponds

2. Alyssa Adler: Rehydrate, Recycle, Reuse, Ready, Set, Go!

3. Barra Peak; The Effects of Salt and Vinegar On Lettuce Spoilage


1. Isabel Smith: Mercury Levels in Modern Sodas

2. Taylor McNeely: Fire Retardant Paint

3. Lily Bick: Curdling Milk


1. Justin Smith: How Golf Balls Bounce; Michael Montanile: Papergy.

2. Oliver Filley: Hydrodynamics: Performance of Boat Hulls

3. Dylan Brockmeyer: Connect the Fruits; David Seidman: Don’t Worry! It’s Soundproof!

Environmental Science

1. Charlotte Hall: Hydrogen — The Fuel of the Future

2. Nathaniel Horwitz: Are Your Cleaning Habits Poisoning the Environment

3. Ben Lukowitz: Capillarity of Soil

Engineering Design

1. William Trapp: Castle Defender

2. Brad Anastacio: Awesome Hydrogen Car

3. Katharine Johnson: Caffeinated Contraption

Team Projects (9th)

1. Sawyer Klebs and Sam Permar: Radiation Fog . . . It Doesn’t Cause Leukemia

2. Mary Ollen and Katherine Dorr: Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana

3. Sophia Nelson and Sarah Dawson: You Can Make Your Cake And Eat It Too!

Team Projects (10th)

1. Charles Pikor and Charlie Ashmun: Heating Up the Atmosphere

2. Skylah Forend and Dana Jacobs: Keep the Algae Away!

3. Olivia DeGeoffroy and Zack Bernard: When Dimples Fly