West Potomac High School junior Cortnay Varela came rushing into the gymnasium at Robinson High School Friday, March 8, with three other friends, each with his hands full. Typical of teen-agers, the foursome waited until the last minute to register their projects for the science fair and now they have only minutes to sign-in, find their place among the many displays and set up their projects.
With the clock ticking, Courtney works with precision to set up her backboard containing her hypothesis, experiment and conclusions, as well as the visual aides. Within minutes, she is rushing out the door the door once again.
Her experiment, "Utilization of Electromagnetic Fields as a Nontoxic Approach to Antifouling," took considerably more time to do then to display.
"I started in August and ended in December," she said. "The idea is to prevent barnacles from settling on boat bottoms."
That Friday, she displayed the results of her 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.
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 on Saturday followed by an award ceremony Sunday.
The projects on display at the fair were the winners from the various Fairfax County high schools own science fairs.
"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.
For many of the participants, their projects have been on-going experiments stemming from an interest outside of class, such as Courtney, who because of her sailing experience was looking for a nonchemical way to keep boats barnacle free.
"She developed the concept over the summer," said Sandra Wennergren, a physics teacher at West Potomac, of Courtney. "These projects are indicative of what the students are producing now. I'm impressed by the variety of projects."
Wennergren said the honors and advanced placement science students at her school were required to do projects for the school's fair, which produced 23 entries. She said the fairs are important because they give the students the opportunity to be exposed to the scientific process on a larger scale than what they would get in the classroom. She said it is also great practice for the students interested in pursuing a career in science.
"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."