Martha's Vineyard high school science and engineering fair showcases student ingenuity

The sixty-six exhibits featured topics from the theory of relativity to an automatic dog scratcher.

Science fair winners, from l to r: Olivia Jacobs, third place; Ellie O'Callaghan, second place (partner Arden Bezahler not pictured); and Nils Aldeborgh, first place. – Photo by Natalie Munn

A three-dimensional light cube created by Nils Aldeborgh took the grand prize at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s 16th Annual Science and Engineering Fair held Saturday morning.

The popular event, held in the school cafeteria, drew a large crowd who viewed 30 engineering projects and 36 investigative projects in the categories of chemistry, biology, physics, earth science, and environmental science. The fair also included a wind turbine engineering competition.

Nils, a junior and first-time entrant in the science fair, told The Times in a telephone conversation after the fair that his win came as a surprise. “I thought I did a pretty good job, but I didn’t expect first place,” he said.

Nils’s light cube contains 64 LED lights, installed onto a board and plugged into an Arduino microcontroller. It is programmed with a computer to create three-dimensional images. Nils said his project stemmed from an interest in finding out what other people were doing with the microcontroller after learning to use it last year.

“The light cube kept coming up when I looked on the Internet, and I thought it would be cool,” he said. “I decided to concentrate on how to make the most efficient version, to see how simple I could make it.”

The second place grand prize went to Arden Bezahler and Ellie O’Callaghan for their project on the effects of different soap bases. Olivia Jacobs took the third place grand prize for her project on simulating an artificial pancreas, which she said was inspired by her curiosity about how an insulin pump works for diabetics.

The three grand prize awards were presented in honor of former Tisbury Waterways president Dr. James H. Porter. The grand prize winners, who scored the top overall scores among the first place winners, received cash prizes of $200 for first place, $175 for second, and $150 for third.

Additional awards were also given to first, second and third place winners in the engineering design and investigative categories.

The wind turbine competition was open to physics students. Nina Harris and Zachary Bresnick teamed up to win first place for designing the wind turbine with the best energy output, as evaluated by its performance in a wind tunnel.

Wide-ranging projects

The projects covered the waterfront and then some. Patrick Best and Pearl Vercruysse came up with a plan to restore eelgrass in Martha’s Vineyard coastal ponds, following improvements in water quality.

Chris Aring dazzled fair-goers with an augmented reality sand table. It allows users to manipulate sand to represent different topographical formations and to study how they are affected by changes, such as erosion and water, for example. A corresponding computer engineering program projects the images and changes back onto the table in real time.

Lucas Dutton came up with a way to make his enjoyment of bike riding pay off. He modified a bicycle-mounted headlight and tail light generator assembly so that energy from peddling goes into a converter and charges his cell phone.

Daniel Gaines examined how to construct a more efficient hydrogen fuel cell, which he explained creates energy by splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. He experimented with adding different minerals to the water to see which ones would cause the most water to electrolyze, and found baking soda worked the best.

Olivia Smith built her own solar hot water heater. She said it took her three tries to get the design right, and some trial and error to determine what materials to use. Most of them she found at home, such as PVC pipe, acrylic mirror, and sheetmetal, thanks to her dad, who is a plumber. She said the winter weather has made it difficult to test the heater’s efficiency and is looking forward to testing it further this summer.

Pet interests

Family dogs provided the inspiration for two projects. Lucy Ulyatt and Whitney Schroeder built an automatic dog feeder. It features a timer that can be set for multiple feedings, and a motor that is calibrated to dispense the desired amount of dry kibble.

To cope with the demands of his golden retriever that wants constant petting, Elias Fhagen-Smith designed an automatic dog scratcher. He mounted a dog brush to a motorized rotating arm that is triggered when the canine steps onto a pressure mat, retrofitted from a Halloween fright device.

Inspired by popular crime scene forensics television shows, Lauryn Bond and her twin brother Nicholas investigated what factors affect differences in internal and external temperatures in determining time of death. They used oranges instead of dead bodies as their test subjects, however.

Justine Cassel said she decided to expand her interest in steampunk fashion, which incorporates modern styles with elements from the Victorian era, to engineering a practical and attractive piece of steampunk décor. The end result was a shelving unit made of PVC piping purchased from Ace Hardware and recycled materials she found at home, including mahogany plywood, old metal gauges, and her great-grandfather’s barometer. Justine stood next to her project dressed in steampunk fashion, complete with driving/flying goggles.

Mindful of the growing excess of used plastic shopping bags that litter the landscape worldwide, Willa Vigneault came up with a way to put them to good use. She fused 55 of them together to create a three-ply tarp. She said although she found it difficult to get the bags to melt evenly, she hopes to perfect her technique so that it could be easily accomplished by people in developing countries or by refugees to create shelters.

Awards and prizes

Science teacher and fair coordinator Jackie Hermann emceed the awards ceremony at the fair’s conclusion. She thanked the students for the countless number of hours they put into the projects, and their teachers, parents and families for their support.

Ms. Hermann also thanked the 36 people representing local organizations, as well as a variety of science and engineering backgrounds and interests, who acted as judges. In addition, she acknowledged the many local businesses and organizations that donated refreshments, award money, gift certificates and other door prizes.

All fair winners who chose to be eligible for the South Shore Regional Science Fair at Bridgewater State College by completing the necessary paperwork at the start of their projects received a letter offering them the opportunity to attend on March 14.

First place engineering project awards ($150): Nils Aldeborgh; Arden Bezahler and Ellie O’Callaghan; Olivia Jacobs.

First place investigative project awards ($150): Maggie Burke (The Ability of Sponges to Filter Nitrogen from Water); Sam Bresnick and Sam Rollins (How pH Levels Affect Oyster Shells); Harrison Dorr and Nicolas Andre (Acceleration of a Magnet in Copper); Nicolas Andre and Miles Albert (How Does Heat Affect the Adhesiveness of Glue?).

Second place engineering project awards ($125): Christopher Aring (Augmented Reality Sand Table); David Packer (TV Remote with a Speaker); Willa Vigneault (Strength of Fused Plastic Bag Sheeting).

Second place investigative project awards ($125): Julia Felix and Kat Roberts (The Effect Temperature has on Dissolved Oxygen in Water); Miles Jordi (Nutrient Enhancing Growth); Julian Hermann (How Does Water Temperature Affect Plant Growth?).

Third place engineering project awards ($100): Sophia McCarron (What is the Optimal House Position?); Daniel Gaines (Fuel Cells); Ethan Donovan (Arduino); Peter Ruimerman (Hydro Electric Power in Menemsha).

Third place investigative project awards ($100): Rose Engler ((Impact of Shellfish Decomposition on pH Levels in Brackish Water); Curtis Fisher (Traveling the Speed of Time); Matteus Scheffer and Jack Sierputoski (Shellfish – Filtration of the Future); Cooper Bennett and John G
onsalves (Effect of Heat on the Growth of Yeast).

Wind Turbine Design and Engineering Competition: first place ($150), Zachary Bresnick and Nina Harris; second place ($125) Jack Reagan; third place ($100) Sara Poggi and Samantha Hargy.

Special Topic Awards

The David Brand Award for an outstanding project related to earth science: Maggie Burke.

Island Grown Initiative Award for a project that focuses on agricultural systems and techniques that support biodiversity or that address traditional or historic Island agriculture: Lila Norris and Zachary Danz (Milk vs. Water).

Cape Light Compact Award for an outstanding energy-related project: Daniel Gaines.

Lagoon Pond Association Award for a project that addresses a water quality issue with application to the protection of Martha’s Vineyard water resources: Emily Moore (Creating a Tank to Sustain the Life of a Jelly).

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: Patrick Best and Pearl Vercruysse (Eelgrass Restoration in Vineyard Coastal Ponds).

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: Rose Engler.

Sustainability Awards, sponsored by the Munn family, presented to the top projects by a female and male that involve recycling or reuse of materials for a new purpose, or that involve methods of reducing energy or materials consumption: Willa Vigneault and Addison Geiger (Electric Motorcycle).

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation for a project that may benefit the environment and ecological management of these lands: Christopher Aring.

Ms. Hermann notified The Times on Monday that some of the winners were inadvertently left off the list announced at Saturday’s awards ceremony: first place investigative project, Harrison Dorr and Jared Foster; third place investigative project, Matteus Scheffer and Jack Sierputoski; third place engineering project, Peter Ruimerman; Lagoon Pond Award, Emily Moore.