Martha’s Vineyard school science fair was a high energy event

Grand overall winner Eli Hanschka discussed his wave energy project with Ewell Hopkins. — Photo by Danielle Zerbonne

The 14th annual Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Science Fair, held on Saturday at the school’s cafeteria and library, was rife with design and discovery, most of it related to energy — wind, solar, hydro, and human.

“The kids put in hundreds of hours of work on these projects,” said David Munn, a physics teacher at the high school. “They spent all fall researching and a lot of time on design.”

The result was a cafeteria packed cheek-to-jowl with folding display boards, working prototypes, and teens standing proudly next to their inventions.

Although attendance was reduced from last year because of the postponement due to the February 9 blizzard, the quality remained high. Some of the students looked at needs in their day-to-day lives for inspiration. Two girls made earth-friendly soap. Another, her own shampoo. Still another, whitening toothpaste. Willow Wunsch studied the effect of time and other factors on the “Sourness of Sourdough.” Emily Medeiros invented a mechanism for softening butter, for which she took a second-place award.

Some projects were a little more exotic. Jacqueline Menton, a junior, related how women in third world countries use shawls to filter water. She demonstrated how this process has no effect on e-coli bacteria.

Shane Metters, a junior participating for the first time, designed a barge that lifts above the waves for stability in choppy seas. The design will actually be used by an offshore engineering company.

Recycling won an honored place in the fair. Sophomore Tim Roberts created a mini-greenhouse, incorporating those ubiquitous plastic water bottles in the design. He expressed a continued interest in engineering and environmental science and is considering combining them in future studies. “That would be a great career for me,” he said. After being awarded the Island Grown Initiative Award for his project, he may be well on his way.

Courtney Collins, a junior with aspirations towards a career in police work, is designing to save lives. “The percentage of people in Massachusetts actually using their seat belts is horrible,” she said. “People are dying, people are getting injured every year in huge numbers.” In response, she created a light that fits in the back window of a car to indicate whether the passengers are wearing seat belts.

But the real star of the show was energy.

Sophomore Henry Gallagher, who took second place in the general competition, constructed a “portable outlet,” a wooden box fronted by a solar panel that conducts electricity to an electrical outlet on the side. “I heard about inverters that plug into car batteries that give you the two plugs that my device gives you,” he explained. “However, those you can’t use without a car. So I decided to make a portable solar-powered outlet that you can take wherever you want and have power wherever you want.”

Solar energy generation was examined and used extensively in everything from charging cell phones to water desalination to home heating to cooking. Water power was explored in at least two engineering projects: Samantha Bunker presented a system for capturing the movement of rivers, and first-place winner Eli Hanschka demonstrated a buoy designed to turn the movement of ocean waves into energy.

The competition was broken down and judged in three categories. Natalie Munn, chemistry teacher and original founder of the Science Fair explained how it worked. “We have two engineering categories, process-based and product-based, in which they would design a product or develop a process to meet a need in society,” she said. “They’re creating something or optimizing the project. A good number of our advanced sophomores and juniors are competing in that category.

“The Investigated Project,” she continued, “would be more traditional. You develop a hypothesis, you design experiments to test it, then you analyze your results. Freshmen and sophomores can work in teams, but juniors have to do it on their own.

“Advanced juniors and seniors who take physics enter our wind turbine competition in which they develop and wire a turbine and test the output.”

According to Jacqueline Hermann, coordinator for the fair, judging for the engineering and investigative projects is based on a 100 point system that examines such facets as how clearly the student defined the hypothesis; how clear are the independent and dependent variables; how thoroughly is the data analyzed; does the conclusion refer back to the hypothesis; how well-thought out is the design process; how well is the project presented; and how well does the process or product test.

Whitney Hanschka, of Hanschka Fine Metal Work, volunteered to judge for the first time this year. “We do have a checklist of specific questions,” he explained. “Basically, we go up to the kids and ask them to show us their project and any tables or results they have.”

For the third category, the Wind Turbine Competition, judging is based on one thing: results. Whichever turbine generates the most electricity, wins.

According to David Munn, Marc Natichioni and Paris Bermudes took a big risk for their first-place win: they used gears and a belt to increase the energy flow. “A lot of kids try that, but the gearing can be really hard to work out,” David said.

In comments following the fair, Stephen Nixon, Martha’s Vineyard High School principal, said, “I can say that through the numerous years that I have watched our young people devoting such large amounts of time and effort to their projects, their results never cease to amaze. The higher level of thinking required to envision, create and test all of these wonderful projects is a testimony to our hard working kids, their supportive parents, and the continued dedication of their teachers. Moments like these make us extremely proud of what we do at MVRHS.”

Grand winner awards presented in honor of former Tisbury Waterways president Dr. James H. Porter.

1. Eli Hanschka (Wave Energy: Harnessing the Power of Waves); 2. Charlie Parkhurst (Measuring Salinity with a Laser); 3. Gordon Moore (Salt-Water Distiller).

First place awards: Kevin Montambault (Improving Efficiency of Electric Motors); Julia Neville and August Wells (Fruit Flies Living Conditions); Eli Hanschka (Wave Energy: Harnessing the Power of Waves); Charlie Parkhurst (Measuring Salinity With a Laser); Gordon Moore (Salt-Water Distiller); Lee Faraca (Passive Solar Heating).

Second place awards: Margaret Joba-Woodruff (Musical Wine Glasses); Addison Geiger and Adam Bilodeau (Parachute Pandamonium); Henry Gallagher (Portable Outlet); Emily Medeiros (Butter Softening Mechanism); Elie Jordi (Effect of Angle and Number of Fan Blades on Wind Production); Charlie Morano (Distillation).

Third place awards: Susanna Van Ruyen (Al Cam);

Ellie Reagan (Egg Carton Engineering); Andrew Ruimerman (Eco-Friendly Ways to Melt Ice); Grant Santos (Light Up Your Mind: An Investigation in Dimmer Switches); Samantha Potter (Effect of Wastewater on Plant Growth); Maddy Alley and Sydney Minnehan (How Temperature Effects Stretch of a rubber band).

Special Topic Awards

Cape Light Compact Award for an energy-related project: Kevin Montambault (Improving the Efficiency of Electric Motors).

The David Brand Award for an outstanding earth science project: Molly Houghton and Lindsay Dario (The Effect of Eel grass On Sea Squirts).

Friends of Sengekontacket Award for a project on water quality or salt marsh ecology: Gordon Moore (Salt-Water Distiller).

Island Grown Initiative Awards for projects that focus on agricultural systems and techniques that support biodiversity or address traditional or historic island agriculture: Tim Roberts (A Green Greenhouse).

Lagoon Pond Association Award given to a project that addresses a water quality issue with application to the protection of the water resources of Martha’s Vineyard: Gordon Moore (Salt Water Distiller).

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: Molly Houghton and Lindsay Dario (Effect of Eelgrass on Sea Squirts).

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 Donald K. Boyd: Andrew Ruimerman (Eco-Friendly Ways to Melt Ice).

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: Kevin Montambault (Improving Efficiency of Electric Motors).

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation award given to the project that may benefit the environmental and ecological management of the lands of Martha’s Vineyard: Anne Ollen (Keep Our Oceans Clean).

Wind Turbine Engineering Competition sponsored by the Vineyard Conservation Society: 1. Marc Natichioni and Paris Bermudes; 2. Barra Peak and Sarah Thompson; 3. Charolotte Hall.