Young scientists amaze at annual Martha's Vineyard Regional High School fair
Inspired, creative, fun, and really smart are just a few of the adjectives needed to adequately describe the brilliance of this year's entries in the 10th annual Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Science Fair held Saturday.
The individual and team project displays filled the cafeteria and library as a record number of 188 students met a record number of 31 judges this year. The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School science department teachers require students to prepare a project for class but competing in the Fair is voluntary. There were 45 team entries this year.
Students may enter the competition in any of four subject areas: biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science and the wind turbine engineering competition. There are also awards for Team Projects. The young scientists are vying for special awards, first second, third in each category as well as first, second, and third for the overall Fair. There is prize money at stake and invitations to regional and state competitions. And there are also 13 Special Awards.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
Physics teacher Natalie Munn, with the assistance of her husband chemistry teacher Dana Munn, has been the faculty director of the Science Fair since its inception. "The topics are driven by the kids," she said. "I am always amazed by what they are going to study."
From 9 to 10 am, the students stood by their displays and waited for the judges, clipboards and score sheets in hand, to walk around and interview them. The judges were evaluating both the science of the project and the students' ability to communicate clearly the intent of their efforts. The judges are all volunteers and have varied professional science backgrounds.
Christine Mingione, a Ph.D. student at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, became a judge this year in part because she remembers vividly her own 7th-grade entry in a similar science fair. Although that effort was "dismal," Ms. Mingione said, "as a scientist now I can go back and see it again and realize that you never know what is going to inspire someone to become a scientist. I am always impressed by the hard work and enthusiasm of the students. I am young and can relate to a lot of these kids."
Anita Hotchkiss of Vineyard Haven was judging for the third or fourth time this year. With a Ph.D. in psychobiology, Ms. Hotchkiss often oversaw students doing research. "These do not have to be Nobel Prize winning projects - some are very good - but the students enjoy doing it...and then they have to come and present it to what must be a daunting group of people," she said. "Their ability to verbalize why they undertook a project is very important. Whether they go into science or not...it is a life lesson that goes beyond the project."
Felix Neck executive director Suzan Bellincampi has been a judge since the competition began. "This has grown incredibly in size and popularity. The key to the future of science is to make it cool," said Ms. Bellincampi.
According to Ms. Munn, an added benefit of the competition is the opportunity for the science faculty members to interact with the broader science community through their interaction with the judges. "This lets the faculty think about how they can do outreach to the science community which creates a nice, broader sense of that community."
Sophomore Ben Ciciora, 15, and freshman William Stewart, 15, both from Oak Bluffs, are baseball pitchers. Their Science Fair project "Effects of Corking a Baseball Bat" grew out of their love of the game and the publicity surrounding recent corking scandals. According to these student scientists there is a dispute among experts about the effect on balls hit by corked bats, with some stating that corked bats are lighter and absorb more kinetic energy so that the ball does not travel as far, while Major League Baseball thinks otherwise and bans corking.
"People have done the testing before but we thought we could do a better job," said Ben Ciciora. The students' hypothesis was that a ball hit by an uncorked bat will travel farthest, followed by the ball hit by a bat filled with cork and finally the bat filled with rubber balls. The students corked two bats with a third as a control, built a batting device and began testing. The results? The bat corked with rubber balls hit the baseball farthest, the uncorked bat was second farthest and the bat corked with cork sent the ball the shortest distance.
Clearly, according to William Stewart, "there were flaws in our research design. We built our own batting device so if we do this experiment again we would have to fix that." However, the Ciciora/Stewart team went on to take first place in the Team Projects category.
Freshmen Trevor Maciel, 14, of Vineyard Haven, and William Tripp, 14 of Edgartown, took their admitted love of fishing ("I love to do it day after day," said Mr. Maciel) and presented "Could our Fish be in Danger?" for their Fair project.
These scientists said they wanted to find out what impact the change in seasonal water temperatures had on pollutants and minerals in local ponds and what threat this posed to local fish. They studied six ponds and extracted samples from each. The water samples were heated to mimic summer temperatures; other samples were cooled to mimic winter conditions. Air lines were injected to mimic water movement. Freshwater fish were added to the water samples and all of the fish died.
"We wanted to see if the fish we fish for every day are in trouble, and they are because of the seasonal switch from stocked fish to native species," said Mr. Tripp. "Stocked fish cannot adapt to the changing temperatures and conditions. The native fish are doing really good." Mr. Tripp and Mr. Maciel won the Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute Award as well as second place in the Water Award.
Many student projects tested consumer products. For example, freshmen Courtney Mussell, 15, of Vineyard Haven and Shivonne Schofield, 15, of Edgartown tested the iron content in three leading cereal brands. Their research confirmed that Total, advertising that it has more iron, outscored competitors Cheerios and Trix. If they compete next year with this same topic, they intend to test more cereal brands.
Freshman Allison McAnders, 14, of Vineyard Haven, used her project "Chocolate: Does it Really Make you Happy?" to confirm her hypothesis. "Yes, it increases your heart rate, elevates your mood and reduces stress," according to Ms. McAnders who investigated how the quality of chocolate and the varying levels of the chemical theobromine impact one's sense of well-being. "It seemed like a fun thing to investigate, helped me get a better grade, and I like chocolate," Ms. McAnders said, explaining her scientific rationale.
Taylor Chisholm, 17, an Oak Bluffs junior, undertook an experiment "Determining Levels of Lead Concentration in Tea from Different Countries," in an effort to prove the relationship between leaded gasoline and high levels of lead in the bloodstream. "My hypothesis was not met because I did not have as many country samples as I should have had and the country of origin of the leaves was hard to find out," Ms. Chisholm said. "But Chinese tea has significant lead and tea from countries with unleaded gas had lower concentrations." Ms. Chisholm's efforts earned her first place in the Dr. James Porter Award division (the grand prize for the competition) as well as first place in chemistry and third place in the Water Awards.
Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Principal Steve Nixon began the awards ceremony with the announcement that Ms. Munn would be stepping down as Science Fair director because she has been appointed faculty head of the school's science department. Earth Science teacher Jackie Hermann will take over the leadership role for the 2010 competition.
Ms. Munn announced the 2009 competition winners with the assistance of School Superintendent James Weiss. Several Special Award winners received their prizes from the award sponsors including the Tisbury Waterway, Inc. (TWI).
Ms. Bellincampi summed up the event. "We are doing something right as a community if we have this many kids interested in science, wildlife and nature," she said.
Grand Winners of the Science Fair
Dr. James Porter Award for First Place: Taylor Chisholm, Determining Levels of Lead Concentration in Tea from Different Countries
Dr. James Porter Award for Second Place: Benny Syslo, Lead Exposure to Hands
Dr. James Porter Award for Third Place: Tessa Permar, Coffee, Curry, and Cranberry Colors
Wind Turbine Engineering Competition
Mirant Innovation in Science Award for 1st Place: Kirsten Nelson
Mirant Innovation in Science Award for 2nd Place: Olivia Gross and Hayley Pierce
Cape and Islands Renewable Energy Collaborative Sustainable Energy Award for 3rd Place: Chad Curtis
Honorable Mention: Jerome Pikor
1st: Sarah Johnson, The Effect of Water Temperature on Sea Squirts
2nd: Jesse Thomas, Bread with Preservatives vs. Bread without Preservatives for Mold Growth
3rd: Liam Wallace, The Effect of Tobacco on Earth Worms
1st: Taylor Chisholm, Determining Levels of Lead Concentration in Tea from Different Countries
2nd: Benny Syslo, Lead Exposure to Hands
3rd: Tessa Permar, Coffee, Curry, and Cranberry Colors
1st: Riley Donegan, Shark Skin Turbine
2nd: Oliver Filley, How Wing Length of an Airplane Affects Distance Traveled
3rd: Emma Hallbilsback, Greening Your Techno Toys - Saving Energy at Home
1st: Meghan Pettit, Effect of Eco-Friendly Cleaners on Absorbency of Bamboo, Cotton, and Hemp Towels
2nd: Caitlyn Francis, Are Nitrogen Levels in Water Near Agriculture Higher than Nitrogen Levels Without Agriculture Influence?
3rd: Fillipi Gomes, Different Types of Wood and How Much Water They Hold
1st: Ben Ciciora and William Stewart, Effects of Corking a Baseball Bat
2nd: April Hargy and EmmaJean Holly, Citrus or Spud? Batteries from the Produce Aisle
3rd: Signe Baumhofer and Anna Sylvia, What is the Force and Point of Impact that a Horse Hoof Must Project to Knock a Pole off a Two Foot Jump?
Special Topic Awards
Cape Light Compact Awards: Riley Donegan, Shark Skin Turbine; Emma Hallbilsback,
Greening Your Techno Toys - Saving Energy at Home
The David Brand Award: Michaella Gaines and Olivia Higham, Katama Breach
Friends of Sengekontacket Award: Abigail Larsen, The Effects Precipitation has on Water Quality
Island Grown Initiative Awards: Maggie Johnson and Amalie Tinus, Lettuce Lifespan - Are You Being Deceived? Lettuce Teach You about Lettuce; Hannah Marlin, What Effect do
Earthworms have on the Levels of Nitrates and Phosphates Found in Fertilized Soil?; David Seidman, Seed Size and Planting Depth - Impact on Germination
Lagoon Pond Award: Caitlyn Francis, Are Nitrogen Levels in Water Near Agriculture Higher than Nitrogen Levels Without Agriculture Influence?
Lloyd Henke Award: Sarah Johnson, The Effect of Water Temperature on Sea Squirts
Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute Award: Trevor Maciel and Will Trapp, Could Our Fish Be in Danger?
Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters Association Award: Benny Syslo, Lead Exposure to Hands
The Science of Art Award: Tessa Permar, Coffee, Curry, and Cranberry Colors
The Water Awards
1st: Caitlyn Francis, Are Nitrogen Levels in Water Near Agriculture Higher than Nitrogen Levels Without Agriculture Influence?
2nd: Trevor Maciel and Will Trapp, Could Our Fish Be in Danger?
3rd: Taylor Chisholm, Determining Levels of Lead Concentration in Tea from Different Countries
4th: Benny Syslo, Lead Exposure to Hands
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Michaella Gaines participated with Andora Aquino in a project to study diaper absorbency.