Scientists stand out at regional fair

From left, Vito Aiello, Ben Tillman, Nathaniel Packer, Annika Schmidt, Curtis Fisher, Rose Engler, Ayanna Fhagen-Smith, and Kat Roberts receive an award, held by Curtis, given to schools from which one or more students won a first-place award at the 2016 fair, an accomplishment that reflects the hard work of dedicated teachers and a supportive school system. (Missing from photo: Daniel Gaines.) —Ali Barlett

By Adeline Hayman

This past Saturday, the eight first-place winners from the Martha’s Vineyard Science Fair loaded their projects onto the 6 am boat to head off to the South Shore Regional Science Fair at Bridgewater State University. Senior Daniel Gaines was one of only eight first-place winners in the regional competition, and brought home the American Society for Microbiology Award as well.

There are six regional fairs located across Massachusetts, each hosting about 200 student projects. Each regional fair sends 40 to 50 of its top-scoring student projects to the statewide fair.

Once the eight Vineyard students — who had a total of six projects between them — checked in and set up in the various rooms in the science and mathematics building at the university, they awaited their judges. Judging took around five hours. Each student had three judges. After a short lunch break, students and the public were allowed to view the different projects.

Daniel’s project is titled “Constructing Adeno-Associated Viruses to Express t-Bid Exclusively in Cartilage Tissue.” “The regional science fair is an overall amazing experience,” he said. “There were many other outstanding projects, from novel scientific research like cervical cancer statistics to new patentable products like smart and safe syringes for developing countries.”

When talking about the professionals who evaluate every student’s project, Daniel said, “The judges are all industry experts in your project’s field of study. For instance, one of my judges works in a chondrocyte implantation lab where they inject cartilage into patients with arthritis. Another judge owns an investment company that bankrolls pharmaceutical startups, and my last judge was a professor at UMass Boston.”

Third-place winners at the regional fair were juniors Benjamin Tillman, Kat Roberts, and Rose Engler, and freshman Vito Aiello. Kat and Rose partnered up to engineer a solar-powered cell phone that can receive and send both calls and texts. “Our project was a continuation from last year; we engineered and built a solar-powered cell phone because it charges solely by sunlight. We were sick of our phones running out of battery all the time, and we thought how great it would be to be able to just put your phone up to the sunlight and have it be continuously charging,” Kat said. “This year we decided to continue the project, because we now have some background in computer science, and thought that we could make the phone much more advanced. I really enjoy the whole judging process, because you get to show the judges all of your hard work, and they can also give you a lot of helpful feedback. Rose and I have improved so much in giving presentations, not only science-fair-wise but also for any other presentation that we have had to do.”

During public viewing, 10th grader Nathaniel Packer said, “It was nice to see all the people who were interested in what I did for the fair, and it felt nice to explain what I did to open ears. Even though I didn’t win an award, I still got to learn about what others did, and how the science fair system works, which was an award in itself.”

According to Daniel, the regional fair felt like a step up from the fair at the high school. He said, “It’s a much more official fair, too. Many of the students wear business attire, as do the judges. All participants at this level take the process in a much more serious manner than school fairs.”

Curtis Fisher and Annika Schmidt won a second place, as well as the Intel Computer Award, at the regional fair for their project, “A Community Connection: Utilizing Nodal LoRa Modulation and Optimized Network Latency Reduction for Efficient Data Collection and Statistical Analysis.” They will join Daniel, Kat, Rose, Benjamin, and Vito at the State Science Fair, which will be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in early May.