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Science Fair Explores Water, Aviation and Robotics

High school students look at everything from phosphate levels in water to how fast projectiles fly.

he next generation of researchers and innovators unveiled the fruits of its latest scientific endeavors Sunday during the Northern Virginia Science and Engineering Fair at Wakefield High School. Students representing schools throughout the region presented detailed displays and demonstrations of projects exploring fields ranging from aviation to zoology. The competition included ecological investigations, experiments with gliders, and a blue, maze-running robot.

“We need to worry about testing for increased phosphate levels in the water supply from farms and agricultural companies,” said Kathleen Fleming of Yorktown High School, who studied the correlation between heightened phosphate levels in water and the growth rate of bacteria, for her project.

Fleming ordered samples of bacteria from a biological supply company and grew them in water with varying phosphate levels, taking samples every day and later spinning them in a centrifuge. To cultivate the bacteria, she also had to build an aeration system with aquarium tubing and a circulation pump.

Her project won the Stockholm Junior Water Prize from the Virginia Water Environment Association and will go on to be part of the award’s international competition.

“Many of the projects are reflective of the work they do in class, but for many of the older students, they come up with their own ideas and explore them with a little help from their teachers,” said Constance Skelton, one of the fair’s directors.

Arlington Public Schools, Skelton said, have a special program called “Science on Saturday.” which pays teachers for working with students outside normal classroom hours on their fair projects. Many of the scientific studies, she added, grow from studies conducted in prior years, something Arlington superintendent Robert Smith sees as an emerging trend.

“I’ve noticed many students over the last few years that do one project and build upon what they learned to elaborate on it the next year,” Smith said.

The fair showcased 257 projects representing the work of more than 300 students. David Isaacson, a seventh-grade student from HB Woodlawn Middle School, tested the rate at which different materials burn, a study that, he said, could have many practical implications for consumer safety.

ACCORDING TO judge Frank Corosoro, an operations specialist at Arlington’s waste-water treatment plant, water quality is a growing topic of interest for students.

“We’re seeing a lot of projects that focus on the effects of nutrients on Four-mile Run and the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” he said.About 22 projects this year, he added, dealt with water pollution.

Eric Kolker, an eighth-grader from Gunston Middle School, studied the physics of angles and aerodynamics with a project testing how different projectiles fly at varying rates of speed. To research the topic, Kolker built a remote-controlled launcher — looking much like a miniature patriot missile battery — from a construction set. It is even wired with fiber-optic connections that raise or lower the angle of the barrel.“For me, this was a way to do my science fair project and have a little fun,” he said.

The projects were reviewed by 300 judges, including members of scientific organizations, government arms like the Central Intelligence Agency, and scientific educators.