International Science and Engineering Fair - Students Solving Real World Problems

The International Science and Engineering Fair, held recently in Phoenix, AZ, proved that teaching science is more important than we even knew.  The theme, “The Future is Bright” was evident in the projects and faces of the over 1600 students from 70 nations and territories from around the world.  Okaloosa County’s finalists provided great examples of that hope.

The quest for energy is multifaceted: environmental, cost, political, and security issues…complicate existing systems.  Michael Sementilli, Niceville High School, may have discovered a very simple answer to the complex problem.  Why not harvest energy from the water main?  Where there is movement, there is kinetic energy and the potential to harvest it.  In his project, “The Adaptation of Gorlov Helical Turbine into a Water Main,” Michael did just that.  While significant, energy is not our only challenge.

The US experienced severe drought last year, reducing the food stores, and prompting the UN to release a global food shortage warning.  Sarah Craig, Crestview High School, wanted to find out if adding nutrients to the soil would stimulate or deter nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil which are helpful to soybean production.  Her project, “The Effects of Iron, Manganese, and Boron on the Rhizobia Inoculation of Glycine max and Vigna unguiculata Growth; A Third Year Study” answered that question.  

“One State Fair judge was reduced to tears by the passion of this young researcher, who wants to insure that our world has less hunger,” said Shawnea Tallman, Director of the East Panhandle Regional Science Fair.  “At this time and in this place most of us may find it difficult to picture ourselves in the position of not having enough to eat, but there are other problems to solve.”

Imagine being trapped in a burning building.  The smoke is thick, you can’t breathe, and you can’t find your way out.  You hear sirens, but no help comes.  Ask any firefighter… the difference, between a successful rescue and an unsuccessful rescue, is often measured in seconds.  Now, image a triangulation device that can help firefighters to quickly locate someone in a fire.  That is exactly what Alexis Hopkins, Fort Walton Beach High School, did with her science fair project, “Applied Triangulation Using Innovative Signal Processing and Radio Frequency Capturing (iSparc ( c ) ).”  

“Alexis’ project could one day save one of us,” said Tallman.  “Science innovation is very personal.”

Kyle Saleeby, Niceville High School, is an avid diver and was amazed at how much force the tidal energy produced as he tried to spearfish with his dad near the East Pass.  He wondered about a way to harvest that natural energy.  He engineered a tidal wave energy wheel, and harvested more than energy. This year in addition to a Fourth Place Award at the International Science and Engineering Fair, Kyle’s project, “A Current Event: Using Renewable Electrical Tidal Energy in the Production, Separation and Storage of Hydrogen Gas,” won a $100,000 scholarship based on his research.

“But Science Fair is more than acclaim and awards; it is about learning,” said Tallman.

Science and Engineering Fair Finalists have demonstrated scientific process skills that put them ahead of the game in mastering the New National Next Generation Science Standards.  The standards are comprised of three dimensions; the first one is “Scientific and Engineering Practices” and is based on recommendations from the Science Framework for K-12 Science Education.

The eight practices of science and engineering, the Framework identifies as essential for all students to learn, and describes in detail, are listed below:

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering) 
2. Developing and using models 
3. Planning and carrying out investigations 
4. Analyzing and interpreting data 
5. Using mathematics and computational thinking 
6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering) 
7. Engaging in argument from evidence 
8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

“The vision expressed in the Framework is for students to learn disciplinary core ideas in the context of science and engineering practice; just as these science fair students have…and that should give us all some hope for the future,” said Tallman.