Broadcom MASTERS 2017 Finalists

Students raise signs during the research quiz competition portion of the workshop. Photo courtesy of Abien Fred Agarap.

The Broadcom Foundation and Society for Science & the Public (the Society) announced on September 20 the selection of 30 middle school students as finalists in the 2017 Broadcom MASTERS® competition.

Broadcom Foundation and Society for Science & the Public (the Society) are proud to announce the selection of 30 students as finalists in the seventh annual Broadcom MASTERS®– the nation’s most prestigious Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) competition for middle school students.

These talented young scientists, mathematicians and engineers, whose projects range from computer science and mechanical engineering to microbiology and sustainability, are part of the generation that will solve the grand challenges we face today. Winners will be named on October 24 in Washington, DC, after the finalists compete in a rigorous competition that will test their abilities in STEM, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration.

Congratulations to the Broadcom MASTERS® 2017 finalists!

Finalist Overview:

  • The finalists include 15 girls and 15 boys covering 17 states and representing 30 schools. California has the most finalists with ten, followed by Pennsylvania with three, and two each from New York and Florida.
  • Finalists were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists and engineers from among the Top 300 MASTERS and 2,499 applicants representing 49 states and 4 U.S. territories, and 1 military base abroad.
  • Read the press release.

Finalist Listing: Please click on the finalist name to view their photograph, project title, and bio.

Carolyn Almonte, 8th Grade
Burlington Township Middle School: Burlington, NJ

The Effect of UV Radiation on the Metamorphic Process of Zophobas Morio Larvae and the Ability of Bixin to Protect Against Observed UV Induced DamagProject Background: Carolyn wondered if there might be a way to protect skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation “from the inside out.” She had read an article, which suggested that certain sunscreen ingredients might raise the risks for skin cancer. “I found this information ironic, as sunscreens are used to prevent skin cancer,” she notes. Indeed, damage from two types of ultraviolet radiation, known as UVA and UVB, can lead to that disease. Might there be a good oral sunscreen? Carolyn did more research. Another article suggested that bixin might help prevent skin cancer cells from forming. Bixin comes from annatto seeds. People often use annatto as a spice or food coloring.

Tactics and Results: Carolyn quickly became a beetle wrangler. She worked with a darkling beetle, Zophobas morio. Studies showed that exposure to ultraviolet radiation delays when the beetle’s larva turns into a pupa. In any case, though, the larvae must be separate to change. Carolyn’s first test verified that exposure to ultraviolet light would delay the change. Carolyn next gave bixin to some larvae. The compound didn’t appear to cause higher death rates or more deformities. Then Carolyn tested how ultraviolet light affected larvae that got bixin, compared to those that didn’t. Groups that got bixin had lower mortality rates after exposure to UVA and UVB radiation. But she saw a significant drop in the percent with deformities only for those beetles that were exposed to UVA light. For future work, Carolyn would try to find the lowest effective dose of bixin. She would also compare the effects of bixin with other dietary antioxidants.

Other Interests: “For someone who marches to the beat of her own drum, I am surprised by how much I enjoy marching band,” Carolyn notes. She plays the French horn. She also plays the piano and is part of a swim medley team. “We may not end up swimming our most favorite or best stroke,” she notes. “However, as a team we have to leverage each other’s strengths and overcome our weakness.” Carolyn hopes to become an environmental engineer.

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Julian Bain, 8th Grade
Missoula International School: Missoula, MT
Focus Pocus – Using Auto-Focusing Water-Based Lenses at Different Distances

Project Background: Many people have multiple eye problems, Julian notes. For example, many people are near-sighted, but they also have trouble focusing on print close up. And existing eyeglasses have limits in their ability to adjust for multiple conditions. The shape of eyeglass lenses determines where they focus images. So Julian started thinking. “Can an auto-focusing water-based lens be used at different distances?” he wondered. He used his knowledge of robotics and programming to design a new type of eyeglasses. My hypothesis was that if I built and programmed my eyeglasses correctly, then the device would change to an appropriate focus by manipulating the shape of the lenses from convex to concave,” he explains.

Tactics and Results: Julian’s liquid-filled eyeglasses automatically focus on things from 0.3 meters (1 foot) to 6 meters (20 feet) away. He built the glasses with 3-D printed frames, heat-shrink plastic, a mounted syringe, and LEGO components. Those included an ultrasonic sensor, motor and computer module. The system detects the distance to an object and processes that information. Then it pushes or pulls the attached syringe. Slightly soapy water then moves into or out of the lenses. The liquid changes the lenses’ shape. That, in turn, adjusts where the focal point of an image falls inside a wearer’s eyes. Julian then tested his eyeglasses with ten people. The eyeglasses didn’t really help people with severe near-sightedness and age-related difficulty seeing things close up. But, Julian found, the lenses improved vision for subjects with moderate cases of both those conditions. For future work he might try a different liquid inside the lenses, such as mineral oil.

Other Interests: “I have fun meeting with friends and playing Pathfinder, a role-playing game,” says Julian. He also enjoys tennis, swimming, skiing, dancing and playing the clarinet. He’s passionate about robotics and is also interested in marine biology. Julian hopes to become a computer scientist. “I might build a drone that could survey whales or coral reefs, or sample ocean water,” he says.

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Meghna Behari, 8th Grade
Marshall Middle School: Wexford, PA
Aquabot: An Integrated Modular Platform for Testing and Monitoring Surface Water Quality

Project Background: “I often hear about high levels of contamination in waterways very close to my home,” says Meghna. Those concerns have grown as people worry about spills from wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which helps get natural gas out from deep shale. “Globally, the lack of clean water poses a significant problem,” Meghna adds. Regular water testing is an important step for figuring out if there’s a problem. “However, our current water testing methods are extremely inefficient,” she says. She set out to develop a method that would be simpler for both scientists and concerned citizens. That led to her platform, “Aquabot.”

Tactics and Results: Meghna’s automated testing device has dual motors powering an axle with propellers. Lots of tinkering made sure it could be controlled wirelessly and would travel well in water. Meghna mounted a variety of sensors on the device and connected them to Arduino microcontrollers. “I wrote a program for each sensor, which converts voltage to the respective water testing parameter through a formula,” she explains. She added a Bluetooth module to collect and transmit data wirelessly. She also added a GPS module to track the time, date and location of readings. Last but not least, Meghna created a smartphone app to receive and record the data. Then she tested the platform in a local lake. She also got input from water quality inspectors. The data correlated well with handheld sensor readings. And the equipment proved reliable. “In the future, I want to conduct more research on the accuracy of Aquabot’s sensors and make my platform even more fit in field settings,” Meghna says. “I also want to make Aquabot a standard tool for all water quality inspectors.”

Other Interests: Meghna plays the violin and loves to sing. She’s also active in scouting, swimming, track, and cross country. Meghna loves working with her robotics team and hopes to become a computer engineer. “I enjoy thinking of novel ways to approach challenges,” she says. “I am also good at working with others, which is needed for most careers.”

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Noah Cain, 6th Grade
Krystal School of Science, Math, and Technology, Hesperia, CA
Kids Still at Risk: Particulate Matter and Flammable Gas Exposed

Project Background: Waiting in the car pickup line after school each day, Noah wondered what he was breathing in. “I knew it was bad, but I wondered how dangerous the air really was,” he says. Last year, Noah built a sensor to test particulate matter near the pickup lane. Particulate matter, or PM, are tiny particles and droplets of soot, dust, metals, acids and other chemicals. PM?? measure less than 10 microns in diameter. “Last year I was surprised how high the PM?? levels were at school, even when compared to busy highways,” Noah says. This year, he tested for more pollutants. He also wondered how humidity levels would affect pickup lane pollution.

Tactics and Results: Noah programmed an Arduino microcontroller to work with several sensors. They tested for particulate matter, combustible gas, humidity and temperature. He mounted the equipment in an old computer power supply box with a fan. And he set up his laptop computer to record the data from the monitoring device. A control experiment made sure the system worked to measure particulate matter and combustible gases inside a plastic bag. Then Noah set up the equipment along the school’s pickup lane. The system recorded more than 2,000 sensor readings during the test. Noah repeated the data-collecting process two days later, when humidity was lower. Then he graphed and analyzed the data. “Although PM went down at higher humidity, the flammable gases went up,” Noah reports. “And when the humidity levels decreased, the PM levels went up.” Either way, that’s not good for kids, he says. Particulate matter is linked to heart disease, lung disease and other health problems. Chemicals in flammable gases can also cause short-term and long-term illnesses.

Other Interests: Noah hopes to become a computer scientist. “I have been on the robotics team at my school for three years,” he says. For him, the most important parts of teamwork are “being kind to each other and clear communication.” “I also enjoy sailing,” he adds, “because I enjoy the ocean and interacting with the instructors and friends at the club.”

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Andrew Chiang, 8th Grade
BASIS Independent Silicon Valley: San Jose, CA
Manipulation of Ultrasonic Force Field

Project Background: “As a longtime fan of Star Wars, I have always been fascinated by the force shield that can deflect bombs,” Andrew says. “I wanted to experiment and see if it was possible to create a force field.” An online class let him learn about the science of touch, called haptics. He also learned about how some researchers are using ultrasonic sound to create virtual objects that people can touch. Ultrasonic sound has wavelengths that are too high for people to hear. “This sparked my idea for this project to create an ultrasonic force field to study how to manipulate the force field.”

Tactics and Results: Andrew wanted his ultrasonic force field generator to be able to suspend an object measuring 5 millimeters on each side and weighing 0.05 gram-force. And he wanted to be able to accurately change the object’s position. He developed algorithms to produce amplitude and phases for ultrasonic waves. And he figured out how to make complex field patterns by varying the focal point over an area. He then used electronic components to build a system to try out the design. The measured patterns matched well with what the computer had simulated. Andrew then experimented with the number and spacing of devices to convert electrical energy into ultrasound waves. Using 64 of those so-called transducers let him create a field strong enough to move a very light object, but not enough to fully suspend it in air. “For further research, I would buy more ultrasonic transducers and make an array that could actually make objects float,” Andrew says. Figuring out the air pressure produced by ultrasonic waves might also let him levitate objects, he says.

Other Interests: Andrew loves scouting because getting out in nature lets him “leave everyday troubles behind and let go of technology.” Besides teaching leadership, scouting also makes him feel connected to his favorite TV character, MacGyver. “I admire him because he can use random objects around him to solve problems at hand,” Andrew says. Andrew plays cello, as well as a variety of sports. He hopes to become a biomedical engineer.

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Austin Crouchley, 7th Grade
Garden City Middle School: Garden City, NY
Archimedes Inspired Hydro-Powered Solar PV Azimuth Tracking Mechanism: A Solution to the Energy and Water Crisis

Project Background: “The world is facing an energy and water crisis,” Austin says. To address those problems, he would like to see low-cost solar energy help pump water in areas that are off the grid. With that in mind, Austin set out to find ways to lower the cost of solar energy and improve its efficiency. He figured out that a solar energy module will produce more electricity if it can move as the sun changes its position across the sky. However, a commercial tracking device costs about $200. Austin couldn’t afford that. Instead, he designed his own device.

Tactics and Results: Archimedes was a Greek mathematician and scientist. He had important insights about levers, pulleys, buoyancy and other basic physics concepts. Austin drew on those ideas for his tracking device. “My solar tracker uses water drip technology in combination with a weight system,” he says. Together, they cause a balance beam and a pulley to rotate a solar energy module. “On one side of the balance beam was a container of water with a brass valve glued to the bottom. On the other side of the balance beam was a counterweight,” Austin explains. “As the water slowly dripped from the valve, the water container got lighter.” As that happened, the counterweight moved the balance beam, which pulled a cord. That, in turn, rotated a drum with the solar energy module mounted on top. In repeated tests, the tracking set-up pumped an average of 16 percent more water compared to a solar module with a fixed position.

Other Interests: “My favorite hobby is sailing,” says Austin. “Sailing is a system of pulleys and ropes, and I am fascinated by its engineering!” Other favorite outdoor activities are hiking, swimming, fishing, and kayaking. He’s on multiple sports teams at school too. “I would like to be a doctor because of my passion for biology and my desire to help others,” Austin adds. “During my project I learned a lot about the connection between our environments and our health.”

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Jessie Gan, 8th Grade
San Diego Jewish Academy: San Diego, CA
Natural Antioxidant and Nano-Antioxidant Effects Against Oxidative Stress

Project Background: Antioxidants can stop a chemical reaction called oxidation. That process steals electrons from molecules, and in living organisms it can cause cell damage. That damage can lead to a variety of chronic diseases. And some of those diseases can be deadly. Examples include atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer. When Jessie’s grandfather had lung cancer, his doctors suggested that he try nano-antioxidants. Those are antioxidants in the form of teeny, tiny particles. They’re measured on the scale of billionths of a meter. Jessie notes that existing research hasn’t done a complete job so far to compare different antioxidants and nano-oxidants to each other. She wanted to help fill that knowledge gap.

Tactics and Results: Jessie figured that yeast cells protected by antioxidants would survive better. Jessie gave different doses to groups of yeast in a solution. Some groups got one of four natural antioxidants. Those chemicals were catechins in green tea, allicin in garlic, vitamin C, and glutathione. Other groups got doses of one of three nano-antioxidants. Those substances were gold nanoparticles, Carbon 60, and MitoQ. Jessie had separate control groups as well. After the test groups got their doses, Jessie exposed them to hydrogen peroxide. That chemical is an oxidizing agent. Then Jessie saw how each group fared. To do that, she measured the optical density of each group’s solution. A solution with more live cells would transmit less light and be less see-through. Green tea turned out to be the most effective natural antioxidant, she reports. Carbon 60 worked best among the nano-antioxidants. The nano-antioxidants were generally superior to the natural ones, she notes. Jessie thinks a combination of the two types of substances “could be a promising therapy.”

Other Interests: “I enjoy writing novels because it immerses me in unreachable worlds and multiple lives,” Jessie says. She has written two books, “Misty” and “Liun Frec.” Jessie also plays the piano and flute. Her athletic activities include swimming, Tae Kwon-Do, and running track and cross country. “I want to be a surgeon because it allows me to save the valuable lives of many people in a hands-on way,” she says.

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Leia Gluckman, 7th Grade
Beverly Vista Middle School: Beverly Hills, CA
A Clean Conscience: Formulating an All-Purpose Hair, Dental and Body Cleansing Powder for the Homeless Population

Project Background: Leia has volunteered for years at a center for homeless teens. She’s seen firsthand how much of a challenge personal hygiene can be for them. People who live on the street or in a car don’t have regular access to showers. Yet they want to be clean. “The most requested hygiene items are toothpaste, shampoo and body powder.” she says. “With this in mind, I decided to create an all-purpose tooth, hair and body cleansing powder made from natural, inexpensive ingredients.” Besides helping the homeless, the product could also benefit campers, travelers, military personnel and aid organizations, she adds.

Tactics and Results: Leia wanted the powder to do multiple jobs. It would absorb sweat and oil from skin and hair. It would clean teeth. And it would kill bacteria on skin and in the mouth without being harmful to people. A pleasant taste and smell were essential. And the ingredients had to be food-grade, natural and biodegradable. Leia compared ingredient lists for existing products to find components that were common to multiple tooth powders, dry shampoos and body powders. She then developed eight formulas from common ingredients. Experimenting with spices and essential oils helped her decide which ones to add for flavor and color. Leia then tested each formula for absorbency and antibacterial properties. For example, she tested tooth-cleaning ability by seeing how well each powder worked on coffee-stained eggs. And she tried each powder as a dry shampoo. Leia used the test results to tweak the formulas and came up with three that worked best. She hopes to continue developing the product and to someday market her product with a buy-one-donate-one program.

Other Interests: “I enjoy performing, especially musical theater and making movies with my brother,” Leia says. “I also love art and architecture and exploring museums and buildings around the world.” She’s active in scouting a variety of school activities. Besides volunteering at the center for homeless teens, she’s also worked on projects for Heifer International. “Working as an Imagineer would combine my interest in architecture, design, and the arts in general,” she says.

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Zoe Gotthold, 8th Grade
Carmichael Middle School: Richland, WA
A Novel Method for the Efficient Determination of Long-Term Emulsion Stability

Project Background: Zoe is passionate about penguins. Sadly, on June 23, 2000, the ore carrier M.V. Treasure sank off the coast of South Africa. More than 1,300 tons of oil spilled into the sea. “This horrific disaster reduced some African penguin colony populations by half,” says Zoe. Most of the damage came from emulsions of seawater and oil, she notes. Emulsions have suspended droplets scattered throughout a liquid in which the droplets aren’t soluble. For many oil spills, people usually wait for emulsions to degrade or break down. However, that can take months, Zoe says. She developed a test to gauge how long emulsions would stay stable. The test could help cleanup crews decide on the best actions to take, she decided.

Tactics and Results: Zoe prepared emulsions of canola oil in tinted water. The combinations would mimic crude oil. Variations for each blend would resemble fresh water or seawater under different conditions. For each sample, Zoe determined its actual stability before breakdown. To do that, she used time-interval photography, graphing of the data, and statistics methods. Zoe then tried different tests to predict each emulsion’s stability. One test used microscopic imaging. Others gauged surface tension or relative viscosity. For yet another test, Zoe put a bit of the emulsion into a petri dish that held water. She then calculated the area of the blob that formed when the emulsion went into the dish. That “blob test” wound up being the most accurate and efficient way to predict how long an emulsion would stay stable. Zoe learned a lot about emulsions. She also learned how to improvise substitutes for costly lab equipment, such as a viscosity meter. “You just need to be a little creative and really understand how different machines work!” she says.

Other Interests: “I decided to play the bassoon because it looked like a penguin,” Zoe says. To her, music “is a collection of numbers. Because of this, the bassoon, with its intricate keywork, is the perfect mixture of artistic expression and mathematics.” Her other school and community activities include swimming, robotics and various volunteer projects. Zoe hopes to become a biomedical engineer.

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Spencer Green, 7th Grade
The Pegasus School: Huntington Beach, CA
The Sonification of Accelerometers for the Training of Elite Gymnasts

Project Background: Sonification is a process that electronically converts data into sound. Spencer had learned about coaches who train elite swimmers with the tool. He himself is a gymnast. Spencer decided to use the technique of turning data into sounds to improve training for athletes in his own sport. “Currently coaches use video recordings and verbal communication to provide feedback to help gymnasts master each skill and routine,” he notes. However, that process is inexact. There are variations between coaches. And the feedback happens after the fact, not in real time. Sonification could help deal with those issues, Spencer thought.

Tactics and Results: Spencer designed a device for gymnasts to wear as they go through practice routines. Electronic components on the device could detect and record data as a person performed different movements. And an online sonification platform let Spencer tinker with different ways to convert the movement data into sound. Upon conversion, the device would then send the sound to a Bluetooth speaker. Getting things right took some trial and error. “For every obstacle encountered there was always a workaround,” Spencer says. Finally, he had a compact wearable version that could provide clear sound and real-time feedback. Spencer tested his prototype as gymnasts did moves such as giants. Those moves involve going round and round on a high bar while the body is fully extended. Athletes also tested the tool as they did flips on a trampoline. “Comments from the coaches indicated that the real-time sound matched their visual observations,” Spencer says, “and they felt that the sound aided the gymnasts to make quicker form corrections.”

Other Interests: Spencer has been ranked among the top six gymnasts in his state for his category. He’s also an avid bird watcher. In addition, Spencer enjoys hiking and camping, and he is a Life Scout. He plays the cello and enjoys being on the debate team at school. Spencer likes working with electronics and has helped his dad with projects since he was little. Spencer hopes to become an electrical engineer.

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Anthony Hill, 8th Grade
Churchill Junior High: Salt Lake City, UT
No Pressure: The Effects of Martian-Like Atmospheric Pressure on Enzyme Catalyzed Reactions in Plants

Project Background: The idea of colonizing Mars fascinated Anthony. But people who live there would need food. And conditions on the planet are very different from those on Earth. Mars has an atmosphere that is mostly carbon dioxide, and the surface pressure is only about 1 percent of that on earth. “In ‘The Martian’ movie, Matt Damon grew potatoes in a pressurized living space, and a rapid decompression ends up killing all of his plants,” Anthony notes. He wondered whether a pressurized grow area for plants would really be necessary. Might plants be able to grow under conditions of very low atmospheric pressure? He decided to find out.

Tactics and Results: To test his idea that plants could survive under low pressure conditions, Anthony grew onions, tomatoes, thyme, sage, rosemary and algae. His control group plants sat under grow lights in his basement. The experimental plants went into a pressure chamber. He also added baking soda ice as a source of carbon dioxide. He then applied a vacuum to reduce the atmospheric pressure in the chamber to what it would be on Mars. At the end of 20- and 67-hour periods, Anthony collected samples from both the test group and his control group. Then he did chemical analyses. Enzymes were still functional in most plants. That meant that the plants were alive. Indeed, woody plants like sage and rosemary seemed to fare slightly better than the control group. Anthony notes that some people first thought his hypothesis was harebrained. But, he adds, “I learned that it is important to ask crazy questions, or to approach a question in a naïve way.”

Other Interests: My favorite hobby is gardening, because every part requires scientific thought,” Anthony says. He donates some of his harvest to Volunteers for America. His other activities include swim team, robotics, piano and musical theater. “I have always enjoyed singing,” he says. Anthony hopes to become a botanist or plant pathologist.

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Herin Kang, 7th Grade
Stratford Middle School: San Jose, CA
Energy Efficient Oxygen Generator Using Micro Algae as an Alternative to Window Ventilation

Project Background: “I have severe allergy problems and am afraid of opening the window during allergy seasons,” Herin says. Pollution in urban areas or weather conditions can also cause people to keep the windows shut. Without ventilation, however, carbon dioxide can build up. And that can cause headaches and breathing discomfort, Herin notes. She had learned that NASA researchers had tested algae as a source of oxygen for spaceships. Herin decided to design her own oxygen generator for rooms indoors. It would use algae to replenish oxygen through photosynthesis.

Tactics and Results: Herin chose to use algae in her device for several reasons. Algae can fit into any container shape. Algae are easy to maintain. And algae don’t produce allergic pollen, she explains. She made two prototypes for the device. Both models had a transparent container with an air pump and algae, but they differed in size and shape. To test the device on a small scale, Herin also built an 8-cubic-foot simulator room with a removable lid. She then made baseline measurements in a room that was 124 times as large as that test room. Specifically, she measured carbon dioxide levels in the larger room after one or two people had slept there. Afterward, Herin let the test room sit open in that larger room while people slept there. She took carbon dioxide readings afterward. Then she switched on one of the devices and sealed it in the test room. Even the smaller prototype worked well to bring carbon dioxide levels back to normal in the test room, she reports.

Other Interests: Herin especially enjoys drawing and playing the ukulele. She also plays the piano and guitar. In addition, she is active in the computer club at school. She hopes to become either a biomedical engineer or a neurosurgeon. “There are so many unknown things about how a life form is created, and I think so many discoveries are waiting to be made,” she says.

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Mithra Karamchedu, 7th Grade
Stoller Middle School: Portland, OR
Remote Sensing the Ablation or Accumulation of a Glacier By Using Fractal Analysis on Glacier Images

Project Background: Mithra is fascinated by fractals. Fractals are “self-repeating patterns and structures that exist basically everywhere,” he explains. A measure called the fractal dimension indicates how complicated a fractal is. That measure is based on the roughness of a fractal’s shape. Mithra is also concerned about climate change and its impacts. He had learned that the melting of a glacier signals its declining “health.” And that can be a sign of climate change. Basically, the worse climate change gets, the more some glaciers will melt. “It occurred to me that I could use fractal dimensions to determine the health of a glacier,” Mithra says.

Tactics and Results: “The more a glacier melts, the more its edges become fractured, which in turn must affect its fractal dimension,” Mithra reasoned. He accessed online satellite images and information for various glaciers. He also recorded the surface mass balance for the glaciers, where those figures were available. He used all that data to see whether particular glaciers were melting or growing. Then Mithra used fractal math with the data. Using an online tool called Fractop, Mithra calculated the fractal dimensions for more than 40 glaciers. He also calculated ratios to compare the fractal dimensions of various whole glaciers with their edges. Then Mithra analyzed all the data and noticed some correlations. “There is a consistent pattern to how glaciers grow and melt,” Mithra says. Scientists could use that pattern to monitor glaciers’ growth or shrinkage, he concludes. Overall, Mithra thinks his method would be easier than some complex mathematical models that scientists currently use.

Other Interests: Mithra enjoys drawing, and he especially likes to create cartoons. He also plays the mridangham. That’s a double-barreled Indian drum. In addition to various school activities, he plays tennis and has a black belt in Taekwondo. Mithra hopes to become a computer engineer. “I am somewhat obsessed with computers and computer programming,” he says.

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Sara Kaufman, 6th Grade
American Heritage School: Plantation, FL
The Effects of Wind Mitigation Devices on Gabled Roofs

Project Background: In September 2017, Hurricane Irma’s winds whipped though Sara’s town in Florida. Well before then, when Sara started her project, she wanted to minimize some of the damage such storms can do. “I know that these storms are extremely destructive and that most of the damage comes from roofs flying off houses,” she says. Sara’s mom is a former airline pilot. Because of that, she wondered whether aeronautics principles could be put to work to help protect roofs from high winds. To test the idea, Sara brainstormed and then got to work with a hacksaw, power drill and other tools.

Tactics and Results: Sara removed the roofs from four small birdhouses and screwed one of the bases into a wind tunnel. She set one roof aside as a control. Then, using balsa wood, she built three mitigation devices for the other three roofs. One had a rounded edge. Another had a flat edge. The third design was an airfoil. “It resembles a winglet on an airplane,” Sara explains. “Winglets redirect vortices on airplane wings, which reduces drag and provides fuel savings to airlines.” To test the devices, Sara made a wind tunnel with PVC pipe and a leaf blower. She ran ten trials for each device, timing how long each roof stayed on before it blew off. The roof with the airfoil performed best. On average, it lasted more than three times as long as the control. “This experiment may lead to the addition of airfoil mitigation devices on roofs, specifically in areas that are prone to hurricanes,” Sara says.

Other Interests: “I adore Hebrew and Judaic studies,” Sara says. “They allow me to delve into the origins of my religion.” She also plays guitar and enjoys singing. Her other activities include swimming, scouting, Kung Fu and robotics club. “Combining my interest in robotics and my passion for helping people, a career in mechanical engineering will allow me to construct new groundbreaking technologies in the field of medicine and beyond,” she says.

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Robert “Tre” Kent, 8th Grade
Saint Anselm School: Chesterland, OH
Are Microplastic Contaminants More Abundant in Farm Raised or Wild Clams?

Project Background: Last year, Tre found that watersheds near his Ohio home had microplastics, and water from those areas feeds into Lake Erie. Microplastics are tiny bits of plastic from consumer and industrial waste. The plastics can contain harmful chemicals. And they’re not good fish food in any case. Thus, the plastics can be bad for Lake Erie, which has about half of all the fish in the Great Lakes. Microplastics present problems for other water bodies as well. “The next question I had was whether this contamination was getting into our food chain,” Tre says. If so, it could present health risks.

Tactics and Results: Tre focused his study on clams. “Clams are not only consumed by humans, but are considered to be an indicator of water quality,” he says. He wondered whether microplastic contaminants would be more abundant in farm-raised or wild clams. He ordered two dozen wild clams and two dozen farm-raised clams from each of three different regions: Canada, New York and Virginia. He put 4 milliliters of a 10-percent potassium hydroxide solution on each clam and waited a full day. The potassium hydroxide would break down the clams’ biological tissues. But it wouldn’t destroy any microplastic contaminants. Tre submerged whatever was left after that process into water and then waited another 24 hours. Plastic floats, so Tre collected anything that floated. He then used a microscope to examine that material. For each clam, he counted any plastic bits. To his surprise, farm-raised clams had the most microplastics. “Potentially, the process of cultivating the clams introduced the microplastics,” he says. He thinks future studies should examine the exact techniques used at each farm that raised those clams.

Other Interests: “The extra-curricular activity that I enjoy the most is basketball,” Tre says. “After spending the day in school and then doing homework I find it relaxing running through drills or having a scrimmage.” His other sports include swimming and golf, and he enjoys playing percussion instruments. “I have always been an outside kid and animal lover!” he adds. He’s interested in a career in biology, particularly in environmental science.

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Kathryn Kummel, 8th Grade
North Middle School: Colorado Springs, CO
Gone With the Wind: An Investigation of the Horseshoe Vortex Behind Tree Islands on Pikes Peak and What it Means for Tree Growth

Project Background: Climate change has been causing treelines in some areas to expand to higher elevations. When Kathryn studied the treeline near a favorite hiking trail on Pike’s Peak in Colorado, she noticed something odd. The treeline had an unusual shape. Patches of trees, or “tree islands,” grew beyond what would otherwise be the end of the forest. “This piqued my interest, so I set out to find whether the unique shape of the treeline influenced its immobility,” she says. To investigate further, she set out for Elk Park on Pikes Peak.

Tactics and Results: A microclimate is a set of very local climate factors that can affect plant growth. Dragging a tree island model through a water tank, Kathryn used ink to let her see the flow patterns. Based on that work, she concluded that air flowing past a tree island could form horseshoe-shaped vortices behind the trees. That would create some sheltered zones, she figured. She also reasoned that the branch extensions on the upwind side of trees would be shorter than those on the downwind side. Out in the field, Kathryn logged weather data at several locations near tree islands. During the winter, she measured snow depths with probes. She also measured the length of tree branch extensions on the upwind and downwind sides of several tree islands. The tree islands indeed appeared to have created horseshoe vortices. And Kathryn found several weather and snowdrift variations that correlated with locations in a vortex. Areas with increased temperature also had longer tree branch growth, she found.

Other Interests: Kathryn enjoys studying Chinese. Her mother’s side of the family speaks a dialect of the language. Also, she notes, “In the modern day, the world is getting increasingly connected, and it is important to be able to communicate with people.” Her musical pursuits include singing in choir and playing the piano, oboe and marimba. Kathryn hopes to become a climatologist.

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Stephen Litt, 7th Grade
Lovinggood Middle School: Powder Springs, GA
Phase 2: Does Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate Inhibit Tumorigenesis In Planaria (Dugesia Tigrina)? A Novel Approach toward a Cure for Cancer.

Project Background: “Two close family friends had breast cancer, so I was inspired to do a research project on cancer,” Stephen says. Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate, or EGCG, is an antioxidant in green tea. Stephen decided to focus on that chemical to see if it could protect against cancer. Planaria are flatworms that are sometimes used as a model to study cancer, because their stem cells act somewhat like cancer cells. In the first part of his project last year, Stephen showed that the chemical could inhibit regrowth of injured planaria. This year he tested its effect on tumor growth.

Tactics and Results: Stephen exposed some flatworms to a solution with EGCG for 24 hours. Some of them then went into a solution with two chemicals that are known to induce cancer. A second group of flatworms were exposed to the cancer-causing chemicals but not any of the EGCG. Stephen also had two additional groups for controls. After 14 days, he transferred the groups into four fish tanks with just spring water. Two weeks later, he took photos of the flatworms, using a camera on a microscope. All flatworms grew tumors if they had been in carcinogen mix and had no EGCG exposure. But no tumors formed in any flatworms exposed to both the EGCG and the carcinogens. “This was an unexpected result,” Stephen says. He thought the EGCG would only slow the growth of tumors, instead of stopping them altogether. Basically, Stephen says, exposure to EGCG “completely shut down” the development of tumors. He plans to do more research. Due to his age, however, he likely must wait a couple of years before he can work in a professional lab setting

Other Interests: “I want to be a chemical engineer when I grow up because it encompasses all the aspects I love about science and applies them,” Stephen says. He loves reading and is an accomplished oboe player. He’s also a Star Scout and enjoys soccer, golf, karate, choir and other community activities.

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Helen Lyons, 8th Grade
Hunter College High School: New York, NY
Using Flotation Systems to Harness Wave Power Using Electromagnetism

Project Background: After Hurricane Sandy hit Helen’s neighborhood in 2012, the area had no electricity for a week. “Our elderly neighbors were barely able to carry their own water to their 12th floor apartment,” Helen recalls. Unfortunately, severe storms and other extreme weather events will become more frequent in a warming world. “Since then, I knew we needed a way to stop the terrible trend of global warming,” she says. Concern about climate change led Helen to learn about renewable energy technologies. Wave power especially fascinated her. That technology uses the motion of ocean waves to make electricity. “I wanted to find a clean and easy way to generate electricity using wave power that could work almost anywhere,” she explains. “My research led me to investigate magnetism.”

Tactics and Results: A magnetic field can be used to induce an electric current. With that in mind, Helen sealed a spherical magnet inside a tube. She wrapped the tube with copper wire, which is an electrical conductor. When the tube rocked back and forth, the magnet would move and cause current to flow through the wire. Helen then tested the device with each of four Styrofoam bases. Each base would wobble in different ways when it was placed in the waves, she reasoned. One design was basically a board. A second was a ring. The third was a cone. And the fourth was a sphere. Helen tested the designs at a local river. She used a video camera to record readings from a voltmeter. Then she analyzed the results. ‘The sphere base was the best design,’ she reports. Among other things, it generated the highest average voltage. Its sealed design would also make it the most durable in case waves got rough.

Other Interests: “Whenever I get a free moment, I love to write music to clear my mind,” Helen says. She plays piano and violin and sings in choir. Her athletic activities include lacrosse, swimming and dance, and she takes part in other school activities too. After working on her project, Helen says she can’t wait to pursue a career in electrical engineering.

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Arjun Moorthy, 8th Grade
BASIS Scottsdale: Scottsdale, AZ
Can Technology Be Used To Modify Behavior and Reduce Rates of Melanoma

Project Background: Arjun’s mom had a friend who died from skin cancer at age 26. Arjun decided to find out more. Melanoma is a form of skin cancer, and it appears to cause the most deaths from that group of diseases, he reports. Moreover, he notes, 95 percent of skin cancer deaths “can actually be prevented with good sun protection behaviors.” He wondered if technology could get more people to take steps to protect their skin. “If behaviors can be changed, most melanoma can be prevented and deaths avoided,” he says. “Perhaps daily reminders to use sunscreen could help”, he thought.

Tactics and Results: Arjun designed a phone app to remind people to wear sun protection. Its warnings were based on conditions where people lived. Arjun got 30 volunteers. At the beginning of the test period, all participants took a survey. Questions asked about what they did to protect themselves from the sun. Questions also gauged their risk for melanoma. Everyone got instructions for the types of sun protection recommended for their risk level. Twice a day for the next week, one group of people got reminders from the phone app about using sun protection. The other did not. At the end of the week, Arjun surveyed both groups again. He found marked improvement for the test group. The other group hadn’t significantly changed its behavior at all. After two weeks without reminders, however, even people in the test group went back to old habits. People are more likely to do a repetitive task if they get constant reminders, Arjun concluded. “My app can be downloaded by hopefully thousands of participants and provide the reminder system” to use sun protection, he says.

Other Interests: Arjun is a Boy Scout for life. “Sleeping on rocks, using a knife, starting a fire were not tasks I initially enjoyed,” he admits. But now he loves being outdoors, going camping, and is proud to guide and help younger scouts. Arjun plays tennis and is involved in other school and community activities too. “I am interested in becoming a physician doing research,” Arjun says. He’s particularly interested in new ways technology can be used in medicine.

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Honora Navid, 8th Grade
Shady Side Academy Middle School: Pittsburgh, PA
Polling Pollinators: Do Pollinators Prefer Native Plants, Cultivars, or Nativars? A Two-Year Study

Project Background: “I investigated what plants I could raise in southwestern Pennsylvania that would encourage the most insect activity and support the most pollinators,” Nora says. Insects, birds and other animals pollinate plants. Those animals provide billions of dollars of benefits to farming and the economy in the United States. Sadly, though, their numbers have fallen in recent years. In 2014, President Barack Obama announced a federal strategy to curb those losses. To help, Nora planted a 40-foot x 70-foot garden. And she began her research.

Tactics and Results: Nora planted a variety of species in her garden. Some were native plants that grow naturally in her area. The species were there before European settlers arrived. Some other plants were cultivars. In this case, that means they were non-native plants. And they were bred for various features. Still other plants were selectively bred versions of native plants. They’re known as nativars. Three times each day when plants bloomed in 2015 and 2016, Nora made observations in her garden. Among other things, she recorded the variety of species that visited particular plants. After 8,267 insect visits and multiple stings, she analyzed her data. “This experiment demonstrates that native plants attracted more insect activity than cultivars or nativars,” she reports. The most popular plants for the widest variety of insects were ox-eye sunflowers, purple-headed sneezeweed, and milkweed. “Planting these plants, even in small spaces, would greatly improve pollinator populations,” Nora suggests. Nora took about 26,800 photos as part of her data collection process. The work captured some amazing images, such as hairy insect legs with pollen baskets or gaping mouthparts. “Pollinators and their flowers are beautiful,” Nora says.

Other Interests: Nora plays the violin, piano, drums and ukulele. She also sings in choir. “I feel lucky to be involved in music because it deeply affects how humans think and feel,” she says. For sports, she’s active in crew, soccer, track and cross country. Nora would like to become a veterinarian. Animals “honor people with their trust,” she says. “I would be privileged to help another species that is suffering.”

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Rachel Pizzolato, 7th Grade
John Curtis Christian: River Ridge, LA
Generating Electricity By Harnessing Air That Flows Around A Skyscraper Using Bernoulli’s Principle And The Venturi Effect With Special Emphasis On Biomimicry

Project Background: “Is it possible to generate electricity by harnessing the wind that flows between skyscrapers?” Rachel asked. A trip to Disney World’s Epcot Center inspired her to think about using the wind energy that flows around structures. Rachel read up on aerodynamics. According to the Bernoulli principle, air flowing faster in a horizontal direction has less pressure than that flowing more slowly. She also learned about the Venturi effect. Basically, when there’s constant energy, fluid moving through a smaller, restricted area will speed up. The concepts explain the wind that often results as air flows between skyscrapers. Rachel wanted to put that energy to work.

Tactics and Results: To produce the effect of wind between skyscrapers, Rachel built a venturi. A curved mouth directed air flow into a narrow section. The device exited into a wider area. Rachel also built three types of vertical wind turbines to test with her venturi. One type had flat blades. Another had airfoils for blades. And the third had airfoil blades with small rounded projections cut along their trailing edge. Similar shapes, called tubercles, are on the fins of humpback whales. Scientists think tubercles help whales maneuver better as they swim. When tubercles are on an airfoil, they channel air flow into narrower streams. Then Rachel tested her designs. She built a wind tunnel and set up sensors and software. For each turbine design, she ran ten trials at four wind speeds for each of two blade angle settings. Overall, the wind turbine with airfoils and tubercles produced the most electricity. One angle for that design worked better at one speed. The other angle gave the best performance for a different speed.

Other Interests: Rachel has won titles at the national level in tumbling and on the trampoline, and she hopes to compete in the 2024 Olympics. She also enjoys beauty pageants and is the reigning Miss Pre-Teen Louisiana State. She’s worked with her dad on remodeling houses, plays the guitar, and enjoys jewelry making and other crafts. Rachel hopes to become an aeronautical engineer.

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Sanjay Seshan, 8th Grade
Dorseyville Middle School: Pittsburgh, PA
Keeping Our Heads Above Water: Early Detection of Stress in Buried Water Pipes

Project Background: When Sanjay traveled through a poor area in India, he was dismayed by the drinking water system. It was basically “one community pipe and leaking water everywhere,” he recalls. Then he investigated the United States’ system for getting drinking water to communities. “I was stunned to learn that the water infrastructure in the U.S. was deteriorating,” he says. Moreover, water main breaks and leaks were wasting huge amounts of clean water. Sanjay wanted to find a way to detect leaks early. That would save precious water from going to waste. An out-of-tune clarinet inspired him to experiment with the acoustic properties of pipe.

Tactics and Results: Sanjay figured that the way sound travels through pipe would change if the condition of the pipe changed. First, he did baseline tests. He measured characteristics of sound as different frequencies traveled through undamaged pipe. He then subjected pipe to different conditions and repeated the measurements. In the course of his work, Sanjay froze pipe. He made scratches in pipe. And he drilled holes. Then he graphed and analyzed the data. At certain frequencies, the method was “clearly capable of detecting even minor scratches on the pipe,” Sanjay reports. Temperature also had a significant impact, he notes. He thinks his work could lead to a method for monitoring buried water pipes in places around the world. For future work, he hopes to find a way for the system to power itself from water pressure. He also wants to modify the system so it can run continuously. Then the system could report damage right away, and less water would be wasted.

Other Interests: “I enjoy being part of the maker movement, because I want to inspire others to create,” Sanjay says. He has displayed his electronic devices at events in New York, Saint Louis, the San Francisco Bay area, and in India. Other activities include playing the saxophone and soccer. He also volunteers for various community groups. Sanjay hopes to become a computer engineer.

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Cameron Sharma, 7th Grade
George H. Moody Middle School: Richmond, VA A Novel Phylogeny and Antigenicity Based Tool for Designing the Seasonal Flu Vaccine

Project Background: “Two years ago, I got a severe flu even after taking a timely flu shot,” Cameron says. He wondered how that could have happened. Scientists design flu vaccines to protect against the expected troublemaker strains for each season. But there are many strains of the flu. And making the right predictions months ahead of time gets tricky. Also, strains of the flu often mutate. Some changes can let the virus evade the body’s immune response. Then the vaccine may not work well. Cameron wanted to help. So, he developed computer models to guide work on future flu vaccines.

Tactics and Results: After 2009, the seasonal flu vaccine had antibodies to fight a certain strain of the disease. Cameron suspected that those antibodies had lost some of their effectiveness because of genetic changes in that strain of the flu virus. If so, he reasoned, future versions of the vaccine should be changed. Cameron gathered lots of data on flu mutations and vaccines’ antibodies. He created a computer simulation. And he used advanced math to develop models. Cameron then tested his models. He compared their predictions for various years with historic health data. Those tests showed the models worked. And the models suggested that part of the seasonal flu vaccine should indeed be replaced. The models could also recommend what should go into a future vaccine. Interestingly, the models’ recommendation for the 2017 vaccine matched what the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced two months later. Cameron has a website for his work at

Other Interests: Cameron plays soccer with both travel and school teams. He also plays basketball, futsal and ping pong. And he’s involved in chess club, robotics, computer club, school publications, and other activities. Cameron’s family travels a lot during the summer. In recent years he has explored the British Isles, Southern Europe, Scandinavia, and even Cuba. He hopes to become a biomedical engineer. “My long-term objective is to find a cancer vaccine,” Cameron says.

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Emily Shi, 8th Grade
The Cambridge School: San Diego, CA
Microscopic Study Of Torrey Pine Needles For Moisture Condensation

Project Background: “Hiking at Torrey Pines State Park is my favorite weekend family activity,” Emily says. The park is in Southern California. And that area has been having a long drought. However, Torrey Pine trees are still getting water. They use their needles to harvest suspended water droplets in fog. Perhaps technology could mimic the Torrey Pines’ moisture-harvesting mechanism, Emily says. Then people might cope better with droughts. Emily tried to find out why the pine needles condense water so well, but found little information. So, she says, “I decided to explore the mystery by myself.”

Tactics and Results: Emily did more than ten experiments to compare features of Torrey Pine needles with those of another species, the Jeffrey Pine. Among other things, Emily examined the positioning of the trees’ needles, the needles’ surface areas, and the wettability of their surfaces. She also tested the needles’ abilities to transport water droplets and performed other tests. “One of the most difficult tasks in this project was measuring the moisture collecting rate,” Emily notes. That rate depends on both how well needles condense fog and on their ability to transport water droplets. She finally figured out a way to figure out the needles’ actual weight gain from water. And she found several features that helped the Torrey Pine needles harvest water. Among other things, the Torrey Pine needles have hydrophilic surfaces. That means that water molecules are attracted to them. The needles also have a larger surface area and are arranged tip up on the tree. Those features help them condense more water, Emily reports.

Other Interests: Emily’s interest in medicine is so strong that she once made casts for 58 Barbie dolls, using various materials. “I hope to be a surgeon when I grow up so I can help others and also develop my own emergency treatments,” she says. At school she’s active in robotics. She plays the piano and violin and enjoys golfing as well.

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Aryansh Shrivastava, 7th Grade
William Hopkins Junior High School: Fremont, CA
A Microcontroller Based, Programmable, Elderly Healthcare Activity Monitoring System with Intelligent Data Analytics for Early Emergency Detection and Alerts

Project Background: Aryansh loves his grandparents and feels strongly that society should take care of its elderly people. But he also knows that old age often brings health problems. “Old age causes many complications which increase dependency on others, such as reduced motor skills, memory loss, weak eyesight, etc.,” he explains. Aryansh enjoys working with electronics and robotics. He decided to design a programmable system to monitor routine activities. If the system reported something unusual, caregivers would get an alert. They could then step in to help more quickly. “This project will be helpful to our society, as it can be deployed for seniors at home or in assisted care living facilities to take care of them,” he says.

Tactics and Results: Aryansh’s system uses microcontroller-based sensors to track three types of activities. A sensor on a bed can detect when a person goes to sleep. Another sensor can detect when a pill bottle cap is opened. And a third sensor is triggered if someone crosses a beam while entering a bathroom. As designed, the system can track and determine normal patterns for those activities. It can also detect any irregularities. It could then let caregivers know that someone was having a problem. Aryansh tested each part of the system and made tweaks to get accurate results. He concludes that the system can give important information to caregivers to help seniors stay healthier. “In the future, I will expand this project to more healthcare activities,” Aryansh adds. Writing code took lots of time at first. Eventually, though, he found a way to reuse large parts of his code for each sensor. He has also created a website where people can download and use his code to build the system.

Other Interests: Aryansh hopes to become a computer engineer. “Designing an Arduino circuits or writing code for an application to solve a real-world problem sparks creativity in my mind,” he says. He plays the guitar and is active in soccer, tennis and swimming. Other pastimes include chess and reading science fiction. His foreign language studies include both Spanish and Hindi.

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Pujita Tangirala, 7th Grade
Challenger School – Strawberry Park: San Jose, CA
A Green, Low-Cost Adsorbent for the Removal of Dye from Aqueous Solutions

Project Background: “Harmful dyes can damage ecosystems by blocking light, inhibiting photosynthesis, and spreading poison through the food web,” Pujita says. She worked on a way to tackle that problem — with waste tea leaves. Last year, Pujita had examined factors that could affect the anti-oxidant properties of tea. Pujita learned a lot from that work. But she also wound up with lots of waste tea leaves. Some research showed that plant waste can be used as an adsorbent for dye. In other words, plant material could hold bits of dye on its surfaces. And that would pull the dye bits out of water. Pujita decided to use spent tea leaves for that purpose. She also wanted her system to do the job without using electricity

Tactics and Results: Pujita built a system to let a solution with blue dye flow from one test tube into another. The second tube held dried and washed-out tea leaves. The goal was to have the tea leaves glom onto dye bits to pull them out of the solution. To test her device, Pujita also built a spectrophotometer. That’s a tool to measure the intensity of light transmitted through or emitted by a substance. In this case, the substance was the dye solution. Pujita calibrated the measuring tool. Then she tested her filter system. She tried different flow rates, amounts of spent tea leaves and dye concentrations. The results were promising. The best trials managed to remove 99 percent of the blue dye from the water. Pujita hopes that the system’s low cost will make it attractive to companies that might otherwise dump colored wastewater into waterways. “My filter system can be scaled to an industrial level so that factories no longer pollute,” she says.

Other Interests: My favorite hobby is music,” Pujita says. “Whether I am listening, playing, or composing music, it is very relaxing to the mind.” She taught herself how to play the piano, guitar, ukulele and drums. Pujita also does a variety of sports, including soccer, basketball, gymnastics and archery. “I never hesitate to try, explore, or learn something new,” she says. Pujita hopes to become an astrophysicist.

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Scott Tobin, 8th Grade
Creekside Middle School: Port Orange, FL
By Using a Solar Powered Tesla Coil Can Water Be Made Potable through Ozonification

Project Background: “After Hurricane Matthew, our well system was offline for two weeks,” Scott says. That situation in 2016 was temporary. Yet one billion people worldwide lack access to clean water, he reports. Unsanitary water causes illness and death around the world, especially in less developed countries. Scott wanted to find a new way to make water safe to drink. He thought a Tesla coil could help. And if it was solar-powered, it could work almost anywhere. A Tesla coil is basically a type of transformer that steps up the voltage of an electric current. In the process, it creates a plasma arc. That, in turn, produces a reactive gas with three oxygen atoms, called ozone.

Tactics and Results: Scott figured that ozone created by a Tesla coil’s plasma arc could aerate contaminated water. Negative ions from the gas would attach to cell walls of bacteria and protein shells of viruses, he reasoned. “Over time, an oxidative burst should occur, resulting in bacterial death,” he says. To test the idea, Scott built his own solar-powered Tesla coil. He used integrated circuits, boxes, pumps, and more than 750 inches of wire. Then he collected pond water and ran it through a coffee filter. Scott prepared 30 samples of the filtered water, including some controls. One at a time, each of two dozen samples was exposed to the plasma arc and ozone. The exposure times ranged from 30 seconds to two minutes. Scott cultured the water samples at a local college lab for five days and made observations. Finally, he analyzed the data. The longer samples were exposed to ozone, the fewer bacterial colonies grew in them. “Thus, ozone aeration is a way to decrease bacterial content,” he says.

Other Interests: “My passion is to fly,” Scott says. He’s a student pilot and member of the Civil Air Patrol. He builds and flies remote control airplanes. And he hopes to become an aeronautical engineer. Scott plays several musical instruments, including the piano, violin, trumpet, viola and harp. He’s also active in softball, baseball, basketball, golf, gymnastics, and track and cross country.

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Annika Viswesh, 7th Grade
Stratford School- Sunnyvale Raynor Middle School: Sunnyvale, CA
Oculus Patch Assistant: A Novel Method to Simplify and Improve the Effectiveness of Amblyopia Treatment by Using a Smart Sensor, a Smartphone Application, and Predictive Machine Learning Algorithms

Project Background: “At age one, I became legally blind due to amblyopia,” says Annika. The vision problem occurs when one or both eyes don’t work together properly with the brain. Although Annika still has vision problems, she’s no longer legally blind. However, getting to that point took nine years of treatments. During that time, her doctors used a trial-and-error approach. “If the first treatment did not work, doctors moved me to the next one and so on,” she explains. The experience inspired her to search for better ways to treat and manage amblyopia. That’s important, because the condition affects about 12 million children worldwide.

Tactics and Results: Eye patches are a common treatment for amblyopia. However, the recommended time to wear a patch can vary. It’s also hard for eye doctors, patients and their families to track how long children really use their patches. Annika’s solution is a sensor system and iPhone application. The sensor attaches to an eye patch. By tracking head movements, the device detects when someone wears the patch. Then the sensor sends its data to the phone app. The app records and shares data about patch use, sharpness of vision, a patient’s history and more. Annika also developed a computer model. It uses algorithms and simulated data to suggest an eye-patching regimen based on conditions such as age, sex, vision progress and so on. Her simulations suggest that the approach could simplify treatment and improve vision. At the same time, the model could cut children’s patch-wearing time by 100 to 200 hours per year. “Millions of children can greatly benefit,” Annika says.

Other Interests: Annika plays violin with the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. The group’s weekly rehearsals last three hours. “We rise above the ‘I’ and play together to produce great music that cannot be created by an individual alone,” she says. She also plays piano and viola. In addition, she enjoys math competitions, swimming and taekwondo. Annika plans to become a biostatistician or bioinformatician. In that career, she hopes to work on tough medical issues.

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Faris Wald, 8th Grade
Capshaw Middle School: Santa Fe, NM
The Correlation between Solar Coronal Hole Occurrences and the Formation of Tropical and Extra-Tropical Cyclones

Project Background: “I have been naturally curious about the strength of our sun’s power and its true effect on our planet,” Faris says. He learned about different solar phenomena. And he became intrigued by coronal holes. Those are parts of the plasma around the sun that extend outward. They seem darker than other areas. They’re also colder on average than other parts of the corona. Beyond his research on the sun, Faris had also seen television broadcasts about storms and other weather events. He wondered if there was a relationship between the formation of tropical storms and certain types of solar activity, such as coronal holes.

Tactics and Results: Faris figured that charged particles from solar coronal holes would follow magnetic field lines from the sun in the form of the solar wind. “The charged particles then interact with the earth through its own magnetic field and enter the earth at its two magnetic poles,” he explains. That would impart energy, he reasoned. And that energy could later be released in a cyclone. With this in mind, Faris recorded data from government-funded websites on sunspot and coronal hole events. He also recorded data on tropical cyclones. Then he analyzed the information. He found no correlation for sunspots and cyclones. But he did see a significant positive correlation between coronal holes and cyclones. In general if there were more coronal events one year, there would be more cyclones later—usually in the next year. Faris’s computer model can’t say just when or where any particular cyclones will form, he notes. But, he concludes, the analysis can let scientists estimate how many cyclone events to expect worldwide each year.

Other Interests: “Playing my clarinet allows me to express myself through the art of music and jazz,” Faris says. He also plays both first and third base for his baseball team. “Proper communication is critical for performing double plays, catching fly balls and preventing injuries,” he notes. Faris’s other activities include swimming, yearbook and National Junior Honor Society. He hopes to become a climatologist.

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Regan Williams, 6th Grade
Roland-Grise Middle School: Wilmington, NC
Marsh Attacks: Context-dependent Effects of Intraspecific Trait Variation in a Marsh Ecosystem Predator-prey Interaction

Project Background: Regan loves exploring coastal ecosystems. Her favorite is a salt marsh. It’s much more than “just a bunch of grass,” she says. “Once you take a closer look you see that it has many diverse animals that interact in amazing ways to impact how the entire marsh functions.” For example, marsh periwinkle snails eat plants. That keeps plants from growing out of control. Meanwhile, blue crabs prey on the snails. That controls snail populations and protects marsh plants. Regan noticed the smaller snails seem to climb higher on salt marsh plant stalks. She thought they might be trying to escape the snail’s main predator, the blue crab. She decided to investigate.

Tactics and Results: Regan randomly collected 75 marsh periwinkle snails. She tagged them with identifying numbers and measured their shell length. She then saw how high each snail climbed when it was in a bucket that kept predators out. After three trials per snail, she watched whether that behavior changed when a blue crab with bound claws was also in the bucket. She then observed that behavior in the presence of a larger crab with bound claws. Regan then used statistics tools to analyze the results. Size and climbing activity did not correlate with each other. However, size played a role in the predator-prey interactions. Small snails generally climbed higher than larger ones when a crab was small. And high-activity snails climbed significantly higher than less active snails when a crab predator was large. The results suggest that if people overfish large blue crabs from salt marshes, that could alter the balance between the snails and crabs. And that “could, ultimately, alter salt marsh productivity,” Regan warns.

Other Interests: “Playing the cello and lacrosse are my favorite things to do,” Regan says. Her other activities include soccer, basketball and fencing. She would like to become an epidemiologist. “Human-animal interactions are becoming more common” as a result of climate change and habitat destruction, she says. Regan hopes to help control diseases that could spread to people from those interactions.

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