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Science Fair Provides Oportunity for Young Minds to Shine

When she was younger, Kate Gollogly’s family took a trip to Disney World and the youngster became fascinated with a pavilion called Land, especially the plants growing there.

So much so, that Kate, now a freshman at Marshall High School in Falls Church, decided to grow her own hydroponics plants, which are grown in water with nutrients instead of soil.

“It was neat to see,” Kate said of the Disney display. “Hydroponics is a more efficient way to grow plants. You can grow massive amounts in smaller spaces and they can grow pretty much anywhere.”

Since the beginning of the year, hydroponic beans have been growing all over Kate’s room. On Friday, she displayed the results of her bedroom gardening experiment as one of 450 projects entered into the Fairfax County Regional High School Science and Engineering Fair, held at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, this past weekend.

The category award winners go onto the state and international competition. Fourteen grand prize winners were selected to compete in the 54th Intel International Science and Engineering Fair to be held in Louisville, Ky., in May. More than 600 students competed either as an individual or as a team in 13 categories: biochemistry, engineering, earth and space science, physics, computer science and zoology. In addition, awards were also available from various business, government, industry, education and professional organizations. The judging took place Saturday followed by an award ceremony Sunday.

And what does the future hold for Kate’s beans? “We’ll basically eat them,” she said.

THE PROJECTS ON DISPLAY at the fair over the weekend were the winners from the various Fairfax County high schools’ own science fairs. In some cases, certain science classes students were required to enter projects at the school level, and in others, the projects were simply the expansion of a student’s interest in a subject.

George Eichinger, a senior at McLean High School and David Schmitz, a senior at Madison in Vienna, have been friends since middle school. Individually the pair had been experimenting with electromagnetism as a method of propulsion, so it seemed natural they combined their efforts for this year’s fair.

“This is my first fair,” said George. David was competing at a robotics competition, leaving George to set up the experiment himself Friday night.

The result was, “The use of Electromagnetic Induction for the Propulsion of Mass,” or simply put, the pair used magnetic forces to move an object through a curvy tube.

“At this science fair, we’ll be giving out $45,000 in scholarships,” said Jack Greene, the Fairfax County Public Schools kindergartner through 12th grade science coordinator and fair director. “It’s an opportunity for the students to apply what they’ve learned and be judged or critiqued by a professional.”

Greene said there have been a couple of projects where the students have gone on to apply for a patent, however, in both cases the students were seniors and he does not know if the patents were approved.

NOT ALL THE EXPERIMENTS were successful, but for the young scientists, that was only a temporary setback.

John Lee, a junior at Lake Braddock, came up with his project idea after spending the day with an air-traffic controller at National Airport. He said the controller told him it was hard to keep track of all the planes because the Federal Aviation Administration did not have enough distinctive radio signals. John began trying to create a radio that could modulate frequency and amplitude to create more signals.

“I couldn’t get any sound production. It was all static,” John said. “For next year’s fair, I’m going to try and make it work.”

Zulaikha Ayub, a senior at Centreville and her partner, sophomore Sue Pyo, had an uncooperative winter to contend with while trying to do their experiments.

The girls were trying to see if anti-icing, when chemicals are spread on roadways before winter weather hits, works faster than deicing, the traditional method of salting the roads after a storm.

“We were thinking why don’t people put on the anti-icing before the storm hits. There are places using it, but it’s not widespread,” Zulaikha said.

Since there was a mild winter this year, the girls created their own icing conditions with a slab of cement they made and some crushed ice. They found the deicing and anti-icing were essentially the same.

“It gives me a great sense of pride to see the kids apply the scientific process and taking something they learned in class a bit further,” Greene said. “I see a bright future for science.”