Science Fair at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School showcases student projects

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Despite the snow-covered ground outside Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) on Saturday, inside the students attending the 17th annual Science and Engineering Fair were definitely thinking green.

Many of the 50 projects by 71 student participants tackled topics associated with improving the environment through the use of recycled materials and renewable energy. The popular event, the culmination of projects students began last October, drew a large crowd in the school cafeteria.

A wind-turbine engineering competition among 17 junior and senior physics students, to be held in conjunction with the science fair, was postponed due to last Friday’s snowstorm. It took place this week during their classes.

Grand prize winners

A project by Curtis Fisher to build a miniature cube satellite (CubeSat) to provide free information took the grand prize. Classified as a picosatellite (a CubeSat weighing under 1 kilogram), it is is equipped with environmental sensors that include a barometric pressure sensor and humidity sensor. The roughly four-inch-square picosatellite is also equipped with orientation sensors that include an accelerometer, a magnetometer, and a gyroscope.

With transmission equipment expensive and not always as reliable as it could be, Curtis said, his eventual goal is to launch as many of the picosatellites as needed to create a network of them that can transmit information to as great an area as possible, with a reliable uplink/connection.

Curtis said he applied last November for his project’s acceptance into NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative for educational cargo, and hopes to meet all of the agency’s requirements in a timely manner. Selected CubeSats will fly as auxiliary payloads on NASA rocket launches or be deployed from the International Space Station beginning this year through 2019, according to the agency’s website. To date, NASA has selected 105 CubeSats from 30 states.

Asked by The Times if he was surprised at being named the grand winner, Curtis said, “I didn’t expect that. I think all of the projects were good. I wish everyone could get a prize.”

He plans to donate his project to the high school so that future science classes may use the research information. He also plans to install a camera module in the CubeSat, for which he hopes teacher Chris Baer and his photography students will find a use.

Rose Engler and Katharine “Kat” Roberts took the second-place grand prize for their solar-powered cell phone.

“We haven’t perfected it yet, but a smaller solar panel will go on the back of the phone,” Rose said of their prototype model. “The solar panel attached to the back of the phone charges the battery, which charges the phone. It all works, using no electricity.”

The two students said they prevailed despite some people telling them it couldn’t be done.

“We have no technology experience,” Kat said. “We built the phone from scratch. It was trial and error.”

The third-place grand prize went to Daniel Gaines and David Webster for their project on utilizing recycled polystyrene, more commonly known as styrofoam, to replace concrete.

“We learned that concrete and polystyrene are two of the most environmentally detrimental products,” Daniel noted. “Styrofoam takes up one-third of all landfills. It’s the most unrecyclable plastic there is. And concrete is even worse. Its manufacture and transport make 10 percent of global carbon dioxide manmade emissions.

“It made us think, Could polystyrene be a better material for roads?” he added.

The two students created the pavers by dissolving styrofoam with acetone, rather than melting it, and carbon filters to capture emissions, to avoid producing greenhouse gases harmful to the environment. The pavers are coated with epoxy resin to keep them environmentally stable and are molded with uniform holes for drainage, which concrete lacks.

David and Daniel said testing on a friction machine determined the pavers have enough friction to enable cars to brake efficiently, and they held up under the weight of David’s car.

And the students found the pavers expand in freezing temperatures, avoiding the problem of potholes.

From useless to useful

Several other projects that utilized recycled materials also took prizes. Kanika Datta and Maggie Burke created a prototype for a simple, low-cost, efficient water purification system made of recycled materials. It included a water wheel made of scrap wood, a wire spool, and plastic spoons, and a water filter made from a plastic juice bottle filled with activated charcoal, sand, and rocks.

Thinking along those same lines, Sam Bresnick created a low-cost water filter using a recycled water bottle filled with cotton balls, sponge, activated carbon, and coffee-filter paper.

The importance of water as a resource was also the basis of James Robinson’s project. His scale-model prototype of a home rainwater collection system utilizes a house’s existing gutters, connected to a PVC pipe that runs into one outlet.

“If every house on Martha’s Vineyard had a rainwater collection system, we could, as a community, as an Island, collect 24 million gallons of water every year that could be used for irrigation and plumbing, or purified for drinking water,” he said.

Mitchell Chaves built a model of a recyclable greenhouse, using 100 small plastic bottles, that he figures could be built on a larger scale using two-liter bottles. Camilla Prata took plastic shopping bags, the kind under consideration for an Island-wide ban, and scrap paper, and made them into zippered plastic pouches and wrapping paper.

In another example of repurposed materials, Patrick Dutton made shoes by melting milk jugs and other large plastic containers made of high-density polyethylene, and cut up an old basketball to use as tread on the soles. His shoes proved more waterproof than a conventional pair of waterproof shoes, and had the added advantage of faster drying time. “There are fields of plastic in the ocean now that are the size of Texas,” he said. “And we have a lot of people in the world who need shoes.”

A project on sustainable railways by Nils Aldeborgh explored the concept of a railway system that uses solar technology and other electromagnetic components to improve mass transit and reduce fossil fuel energy consumption. He designed and built a model of a train track flanked on both sides by solar panels, topped by a model of an electrodynamic suspension system that would be on the underside of a train. It is based on maglev (magnetic levitation) technology, a transport system that moves vehicles without their touching the ground, using magnets that create both lift and propulsion.

Awards and prizes

Science teacher and fair coordinator Jackie Hermann emceed the awards ceremony. She presented first-, second-, and third-place awards to three investigative and three engineering projects at each level, as well as 10 special-topic awards.

The three grand prize winners were selected from among the six first-place projects. Their awards were presented in honor of former Tisbury Waterways president Dr. James H. Porter, and included cash prizes of $225 for first place, $200 for second, and $175 for third.

The science fair winners are eligible to participate in a regional science fair on March 12 at Bridgewater State University, provided they completed the necessary paperwork at the start of their projects. Up to 15 projects can participate, with team projects limited to three.

Ms. Hermann also held a drawing for numerous door prizes donated by Island businesses and organizations for fair participants.

“It really speaks to our community who support, very generously, this science fair,” Ms. Hermann said. “So I want to thank our community, our sponsors, our judges, and parents and siblings — it does become a whole family project — for supporting the fair.” The judges included a variety of people with science and engineering backgrounds, from on the Island and off.

Ms. Hermann also paid tribute to William Waterway (formerly Marks), an environmentalist, poet, and writer who was a longtime science fair supporter and past judge. He died in September.

First-place awards ($150): Investigative: Mackenzie Condon (The Effect of Ocean Acidification on Oyster Shells); Alexis Condon (Effect of Salinity on Germination of Spartina Alterniflora); Addy Hayman (Effect of Light on Maze Movement of Slime Molds). Engineering: Curtis Fisher (The Information Space Age); Rose Engler and Katharine Roberts (Building a Solar Powered Cell Phone); Daniel Gaines and David Webster (Utilizing Recycled Polystyrene to Replace Concrete).

Second-place awards ($125): Investigative: Allyse Gunther (Pinwheels); Skylar Eddy (The Effect of Temperature on Brine Shrimp); Alley Estrella and Alicja Vickers (How Much Baking Soda Affects Cupcake Rise?). Engineering: Savanna Aiello (Scratching the Surface); Lizzie Williamson and Gabe Bellebuono (Magnificent Magnets); Sam Bresnick (Filter Straw).

Third-place awards ($100): Investigative: Jason Davey and Nathaniel Packer (Help Save the Ocean! Don’t Be Shell-Fish!); Patrick Dutton (Are Recycled Material Shoes More Waterproof?); Sydney Jasny and Lia Potter (Hydraulic Power). Engineering: Nils Aldeborgh (Sustainable Railways); Connor Downing (Dye-Sensitized Solar Cell); Camilla Prata (Multi-Use Products).

Special-topic awards ($100)

Biology Award for a project that demonstrates originality and outstanding investigation in a field of biology: Sam Cranston (Comparing Algae Growth Under Different Circumstances).

David Brand Award for an outstanding project related to earth science: Owen Bresnick and Hunter Cleary (Got Algae? Got Health?).

Cape Light Compact Award for an outstanding energy-related project: Kanika Datta and Maggie Burke (Third World Purification System).

Island-Grown Initiative Award for projects that focus on agricultural systems and techniques that support biodiversity or address traditional or historic Island agriculture: Miles Jordi (Structural Enhancing Growth).

Lagoon Pond Association Award for a project that addresses a water-quality issue with application to the protection of Martha’s Vineyard water resources: Emma Searle (Clear Water on the Half-Shell).

Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute Award for an outstanding marine, freshwater, geological, or coastal science project that might include any aspect of science, fishing, engineering, or conservation: Victoria Scott (The Effects of Temperature on Dermo Disease).

Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association Award for a project that focuses on increasing the awareness and understanding of our marine environment, provided in memory of Phillip M. Upham: Mackenzie Condon.

Physics Award for a project that explores motion and forces, momentum, sound, energy technology, or electricity and magnetism: Allyse Gunther.

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation Award for a project that may benefit the environment and ecological management of Martha’s Vineyard lands: Owen Bresnick and Hunter Cleary.

Sustainability Award for a project that involves the recycling or reuse of materials for a new purpose or that involves methods of reducing energy or materials consumption, sponsored by the Munn family: Mitchell Chaves (Recyclable Greenhouse).