by Dylan Carlson Sirvent and Sophie Yang, ’19
On Feb. 17, 2017, the Honors Science Fair took place in the UAHS Learning Center. At the fair, students from UAHS’s Honors Science Research class displayed their projects at tables, presenting Google presentations and discussing their findings.
Honors Science Research, a class that meets during lunch, encourages independent-style learning. Science teacher Frank Tuttle, who leads third-year and fourth-year Science Research students, said students are in charge of their own project from start to finish. They are tasked with developing a research plan, collecting data, writing a paper and presenting it at science fairs such as the one at UAHS.
At the fair, students presented to the judges, who were local scientists and science teachers, for about ten minutes. Then, the judges asked questions and offered constructive criticism.
Kaitlyn Bondy, a science teacher at Whitehall-Yearling High School, was among the judges invited to give feedback to students at the fair. Overall, she felt that the students were very organized and prepared.
“I thought there were some very interesting projects, and they were all very well-researched,” Bondy said.
At the fair, Bondy was assigned to a group of fellow judges. There were 16 groups of judges in total, each with about two or three local scientists or science teachers. Each group reviewed projects related to their personal field of science — engineering, biology or medicine and health — and gave them advice to help them improve their presentations.
Science teacher Wendy Pinta, who leads the first-year Science Research class said that the fair was not necessarily a competition.
“[Honors Science Fair] is more for experts in the fields of science to critique students and help them improve their project. [It was] a form of peer review, a part of the science field that is extremely important,” Pinta said.
The judges were given a rubric and graded the projects on categories like scientific method, creativity and originality. The Honors Science Research teachers later reviewed the rubrics and returned them to the students, who used them to improve their projects and experimental work.
Tuttle believes one of most interesting parts of the Honors Science Research students is the diversity of their projects.
“The student projects are a wide range,” Tuttle said. “There’s everything from engineering to medical to genetics. It’s all over the place; it’s what they have a desire to learn more about.”
For her Science Research project, junior Morgan Leff analyzed a treatment for PEDv, a virus which killed around 10 percent of the pig population in the United States from 2013 to 2014.
Like the other Science Research students, Leff looked to the local science community to find a mentor who would help her with her experimental research. She worked alongside nationally renowned veterinarian Steven Krakowka in a lab at OSU for her project.
Leff stressed the importance of a mentor in the research process.
“My mentor has been so great not only just for the science research, but also for teaching me how to be more assertive and better presented,” Leff said. “[A good mentor] helps you in all areas, not just your science knowledge.”
However, the process of finding a mentor is not always an easy one. Junior Minjue Wu, who researched modifying cancer-related genes, said that it’s rare and difficult to find a scientist who allows a high school student to work in his or her lab. At least three labs she worked in were disbanded before she could complete her research.
“One of the main problems you would encounter at the beginning of research is trying to find a mentor at all,” Wu said. “It takes a lot of guts I think to go out to strangers and then present yourself.”
Both Wu and Leff have participated in the last two Honors Science Fairs. Leff believes it is a good environment to build a science network.
“You meet scientists within your own community; they are the people who come to grade your presentation,” Leff said. “For some people, it may be an opportunity to build connections within their science community.”
Similarly, Wu said the Honors Science Fair allows participants to refine their presentational abilities.
“[The Honors Science Fair] is a very low-pressure environment for you to practice your presentation skills and get to know where you really rank,” Wu said.
Tuttle believes that Science Research gives students an opportunity to explore their interests beyond what is taught in school. By allowing them to delve into the scientific method, students gain critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are helpful for future ventures.
“[The] scientific method isn’t just about steps one through seven… it’s a cycle,” Tuttle said. “What could you investigate further? If you learn something from this, can you see how it would be applied in another manner? It gives a more real-world, practical application to doing research.”
According to Tuttle, many Science Research students have had a head start in entering the world of scientific research.
“We have had students who have been able to get their own patents. We’ve had plenty of students who have been published in professional journals because of the work they’ve been doing,” Tuttle said. “[The students who have accomplished this] have built up an incredible resume of research prior to even going to college. It’s rare enough for undergrads to get published in some of these journals, let alone for high school students.”
After UAHS students participate in the Honors Science Fair, they can choose to attend other fairs such as CORSEF, the Buckeye Science and Engineering Fair or the District Science Fair. Many Science Research students participate in two of the science fairs, but some do all three.
At the CORSEF fair, each contestant is allotted ten minutes to present their project. A group of judges then ranks three top projects from each category of research. The winners are sent to the International Science and Engineering Fair (INTEL), which is held in a different city each year.
Last year, Wu attended CORSEF and ranked among the top three in her category for her research relating to gene modification. Wu recalled her surprise when she found out she would be going to Phoenix, Arizona for INTEL.
“I saw many great projects at CORSEF, and to even be ranked among the top three in my category was amazing. Though I didn’t win anything at INTEL, it was still a great experience,” Wu said.
After participating in the district science fair, students may be eligible to go to the state science fair. However, some students may choose to attend an entirely different event: the Buckeye Science and Engineering Fair.
Sophomore Fernando Dapino attended the Buckeye fair last year, and it is his favorite out of the three.
“It’s a lot less stressful than CORSEF and the district science fair. I do a poster presentation where I present my project on a poster with my research and data,” Dapino said. “What’s good about this fair is that I can really talk to the judge one-on-one in order to continue to improve my project and experimental work.”
Dapino plans to attend the fair again this year with his project on metals that can change into a “memorized” shape when acted upon by electricity. Like other Science Research students, Dapino completed this project while also managing challenging courses and extracurriculars; he stressed that time management is key.
“There’s always excuses to not do something, but it’s not hard to do Honors Science Research and still have a life. When I do homework, I’ll say from this time to this time, I will do this homework, and if I don’t finish it, I just move on to the next,” Dapino said.
Overall, Tuttle said that the Honors Science Research students this year worked extremely hard on their projects and commended them for their creativity and passion.
“It requires a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of work. Most of these students are heavily involved in classes… and then also do this research,” Tuttle said.
Now that the Honors Science Fair is over, Honors Science Research students are focusing on implementing their feedback and preparing themselves for more upcoming and competitive science fairs.
Background: This was the first true news story that I wrote. Rather than report on the aftermath of the science fair, Sophie and I were there from start to end, interviewing students, teachers, and judges. I did not leave until late evening, and I was exhausted, but it taught me the value of being on the scene. The interviews were more lively, casual, and relevant, and Sophie and I were also able to get a feel of the environment of the science fair. We did not need to have it be described by other people, because we were there and that also helped us place the article in a way that it paralleled the emotions students were feeling while being judged, or making last minute changes to their projects.