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NPS Goes All Out for Monterey County Science and Engineering Fair

Article By: Barbara Honegger

High school and grammar school students wait their turn for judges to come by their exhibits at the 2011 Monterey County Science and Engineering Fair held at California State University Monterey Bay, March 25-27. Fifty-four NPS faculty and officer students judged more than 300 research projects in 24 categories at the annual event. (Photo courtesy of Abel Rodriguez)
 

More than 50 Naval Postgraduate School faculty and students took time out from their busy schedules to judge 300+ entries at the 2011 Monterey County Science and Engineering Fair, March 25-27. Local grammar and high school students, 480 in all, competed for top prizes in 24 research categories at the annual event held at California State University Monterey Bay. NPS co-sponsored the Fair along with CSUMB, the Office of Education and community partners.

“The Naval Postgraduate School really went all out to support and encourage local students’ interest in, and pursuit of careers in, science and engineering,” said Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Roberto Cristi, who coordinated all the judging. “In addition to co-sponsoring the Fair, two-thirds of the 85 judges were from NPS – 38 faculty and 16 students; as well as the entire Scientific Review Committee and Special Awards Judging Team also being NPS faculty.”

Cristi, Associate Professor of Physics Scott Davis, Mathematics Senior Lecturer Bard Mansager, Research Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Ramesh Kolar and Oceanographer Mike Cook comprised the Scientific Review Committee; and Physics Associate Professor Steve Baker, Physics Senior Lecturer Daphne Kapolka, Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Monique Fargues and Kolar made up the Special Awards Judging Team.

“The Science Fair is a real win-win for local students as well as NPS,” Cristi said. “It’s an opportunity for our faculty and officer students to get involved with the local community and for grammar and high school students to learn more about our research programs and opportunities for summer internships.”

“The Science Fair was really terrific,” agreed Kapolka, one of the special awards judges. “It’s always such a pleasure to see the creativity and hard work of our local students. From better ways to keep strawberries fresh to the intricacies of LED light bulb designs, they remind us of how much fun science really is. It’s also a great opportunity to interact with our NPS colleagues and graduate students from across campus in a common endeavor. Professor Cristi and [Monterey County Office of Education Administrative Officer and Science Fair Program Director] Ginny Brown put in a Herculean effort to get the fair organized, and everything ran smoothly.”

“Monterey County is rich with scientific institutions, and the opportunity for students to work with mentors in their fields, especially at NPS, is unparalleled,” said Brown. “At the Fair, the judges go to great lengths to interview each student, where they have to explain the scientific concepts underlying their projects and their research methods. The judges provide feedback as well as ideas for future experimentation, and the senior division winners who advance to the California State Science Fair and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair are able to incorporate their suggestions to improve their projects prior to the next competition. What’s really great is that all of these students are 11th grade or below, and so will be able to benefit from the ISEF experience and come back with even more amazing ideas for next year.”

“These fairs are a really great way for kids to begin to explore the scientific process,” said NPS Director of Research Communications and Outreach Dave Nickles, one of the NPS judges who served as the Monterey County Office of Education Math and Science Coordinator from 1999 to 2002. “Since I was with the Office of Education, the Fair has grown from one to three days, and it’s especially gratifying to see the growing participation of the public schools. The Salinas Union High School District participation this time was huge and very impressive, and the quality of students’ entries overall has also increased.”

The top award went to grand prize winner Aradhana Sinha of Salinas High School for her research on “Triforine Sensitivity in Lettuce.” The 10th grader became interested in the role genetics plays in successful harvests and plans to pursue a career in science. First runner up Kevin Tang of Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) Upper School did his project on the “Scalability of the Optimal Flight Trajectory of a UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] Helicopter.” Second runners up Hyung “Tom” Kim and Xiaolin “William” Zhu, also of RLS Upper School, investigated “The Bacteriostatic and Bactericidal Effects of Different Metals on Growth Rate of Bacteria,” and third runner up Briana Sandoval of Salinas High School researched whether fingerprint patterns are inherited.

Having been a summer intern in NPS’ unmanned aerial vehicle program, Tang was excited to have his award presented by the university’s National Reconnaissance Office Chair and former Astronaut Dan Bursch. In addition to keynoting the awards ceremony along with Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Kotowski, Bursch showed a video on NASA’s Space Shuttle missions and presented the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) junior division award to Katherine Kamel and Morgan Rector for their project titled “How Does the Shape of a Windmill Blade Affect the Amount of Power It Produces?”

“It was great to be able to congratulate the students on their excellent projects only a few days before the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight [by Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961] and encourage them, that their ideas and dreams of today will become the realities of tomorrow,” Bursch said. “I told them that I was only able to fly in space as an astronaut because pioneers like Robert Goddard, Hermann Oberth and Konstantin Tsiolkovsk – a Russian science fiction writer and math teacher who published the ‘rocket equation’ in 1903, 44 years before the first satellite was launched – never gave up on their dreams; and encouraged them to be persistent, as many of the early space pioneers were ridiculed.”

In addition to the four top prizes in the junior (grades 6 through 8) and senior (grades 9 through 12) categories, 28 professional organizations also contributed to special awards: the AIAA; Air Force; Army; Navy, via the Naval High School Science Awards Program presented by Reserve Capts. Rudy Klicek and Tom Follo of the Office of Naval Research; Marine Corps; American Meteorological Society; American Psychological Association; American Public Works Association; ASM International Foundation; Association for Women Geoscientists; Broadcam Masters; Rising Stars in Math; Applied Science, Technology and Engineering; California Association of Professional Scientists; California Society for Biomedical Research; CSUMB’s Watershed Institute; Intel, for excellence in computer science; Monterey County Ag Education; Monterey County Schools Insurance Group; Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency; Mu Alpha Theta; National Association of Professional Engineers; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Northern California Institute of Food Technologists; Ricoh; Society for Biomedical Research; Society for In Vitro Biology; Stockholm Junior Water Prize; U.S. Metric Association; U.S. Public Health Service; and Yale Science and Engineering Association.

Article Posted April 11, 2011

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