Young scientists face off

Fair: Howard students take learning out of the classroom with a showcase of inventive and creative projects.

March 04, 2002|By Megan Watzin | Megan Watzin,SUN STAFF

For David Wainland, a sophomore at Mount Hebron High School, it meant feeding shrimp and crawfish to two octopuses living in his basement.

For Michael Davis, a sophomore at Hammond High School, it involved sloshing around in a stream searching for microscopic bugs.

And for them and nearly 300 other Howard County students, it was a challenging step toward joining the best and brightest in American science.

It was the eighth annual Howard County Mathematics, Science and Technology Fair - a student scientific showdown where youthful experimenters hope to win recognition for months of research and theoretical thinking.

For the most successful, the payoff is more substantial than a medal or ribbon.

The victors in this and larger regional science competitions may gain admission to better colleges, win larger scholarships and obtain other kinds of significant help in their pursuit of science careers.

The Long Reach High School cafeteria was swarming with middle school and high school scientists, mathematicians, and technology experts as the entries were judged on Friday and Saturday. The winners were honored Saturday night at an awards ceremony at Long Reach.

Topics included the effect of music on the human memory to the wireless control of household appliances. And students ranged from sixth grade to 12th grade, and represented most of Howard County's high schools and middle schools.

John Monti of Shimadzu Scientific Instruments Inc., the corporate sponsor of the fair, described many projects as first rate.

"The level of work is outstanding. There really is just no comparison to the level of work and commitment here," he said.

The students worked closely with teachers and mentors. Most have been researching and experimenting since early in the school year. Just being in the fair was an achievement for many. Typically, teachers at individual schools recommendentries for the countywide fair.

Marjorie Tolson's biology teacher, Lillian Simmons-Brown, recommend her for the fair. Tolson's project showed the effect of sunlight on the production of starch and the height of ficus plants.

"What I really liked was the judging, because it was great practice for college interviews," said Tolson, a sophomore from Mount Hebron High School. "I would do this again next year for not only the scientific skills and knowledge, but also for the interview skills."

Tolson appreciated her teacher's avid involvement and encouragement. "She was the biggest influence in this," she said. Tolson and two classmates said they are already brainstorming for next year's project.

The Howard County fair has grown significantly since it began nearly a decade ago.

This year, 204 middle school pupils and 91 high school students entered the fair. In 19 of the high school projects, students worked under the direction of a professional.

The growth "shows that our kids our actually reaching out beyond classwork and are pursuing topics of interest. It also represents the high caliber of instruction in our classrooms," said fair chairwoman Terri Showers.

The winners

Fifty awards were distributed Saturday.

Reena Vaswani, a junior at Centennial High School, won the Best Mentored Project award. Working with Dr. Mudgil Ananth of the Johns Hopkins University, she experimented with screening for ocular torsion - a twisting or turning of the eye that has been observed in space flight.

She said her project, titled "Development of a Computerized Test to Evaluate Ocular Torsion," taught her an important lesson beyond the complex science she investigated. "I learned that it doesn't matter what research you do. What matters is your goal, which is to help other people," she said.

Davis, the Hammond sophomore , won the top high school environmental science award for his study, "The Effects of Urbanization on Stream Water."

"The hardest thing I did was identify all the bugs," said Davis, who worked closely with his father on the project.

"There's a lot of family involvement," said Howard school board member Sandra H. French at the awards ceremony Saturday. French said the innovation and experimentation reflect important educational values. The fair, she said, "demonstrates the reason why we educate children."

Other lessons

The students said they learned more than science while preparing for the fair.

"I learned that you should always plan out exactly what you are going to do ahead of time," said David Howse, a freshman at Oakland Mills High School.

Kriti Gandhi, a seventh-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School, learned something about herself. `My favorite part was the experiments. I love conducting experiments," she said.

Kavita Shukla, a full-time independent study senior at Centennial who is enrolled in classes at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has seen the payoffs from continuing labor-intensive experiments.

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