Nearly 200 students compete at 14th annual CREST-Jane Goodall Science Symposium

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Wilsonville senior Connor Neville explains to judge Craig Stephens how helmet advances reduce concussions.Nearly 200 students from West Linn and Wilsonville high schools participated in the 2014 CREST/Jane Goodall Science Symposium, which wrapped up Feb.28 with a public showing of students’ projects in the evening.

The students created a range of research projects in the fields of social sciences, behavioral sciences, engineering, bioengineering, medicine and health sciences, microbiology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, and life and environmental sciences.

Four student will take their projects to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) competition in May. Milo Webster, Shana Feltham, Melanie Martinsen and Jennifer Lauren Cramer will travel to Los Angeles to compete there. Two promising young scientists, Dylan Martins and Krista Wurscher, will attend that fair as observers.

Another student, Bo Ahn, will travel to Houston at the end of April to enter her project in the International Sustainable World Energy Engineering Environment, or I-SWEEEP, competition

Approximately 50 students will advance their projects to a higher level of competition that’s a little closer to home, the Northwest Science Expo in Portland, on April 4. Projects that win there can advance to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

Two of those students, both Wilsonville seniors, earned first place in the physics, chemistry and mathematics category with a project that used a dye found in blackberries to improve the efficiency of solar cell technology. This was the first year of science fair competition for both Austin Miller and John Hodson.

The materials list for their project began like many a shopping list, with a giant bag of blackberries from Costco. Instead of smoothies or a pie, though, their result was an idea that more than one science fair judge told them they should consider patenting.

“We wanted to do something that we cared about and that was relevant in the real world,” Hodson said. “This is our first year doing it. It’s been a great way to bring kids together.”

“We know these projects require a lot of persistence and patience,” Superintendent Bill Rhoades told students and parents.

For some, the rewards were great too. Besides the opportunity to take their projects to compete at a higher level, some students earned cash prizes. Three students, Niklas Tostar, Garrett Wright and Andrea Lackides, earned scholarships to Oregon State University.

Although not all competitors walked away with scholarships, prizes or a chance to compete again, most of them agreed that the science fair was worth doing.

“It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun,” Grant Sutton said. He worked on a project with a fellow WLHS freshman, Jake Neilson.

“Jake and I wanted to do an ISEF project,” Grant said. “We wanted to do something with relevance in today’s world.”

They settled on a project involving genetically modified corn, and their first task was a daunting one: writing to Monsanto requesting GMO seeds to test.

“It was a bit of a long shot but I thought that it might work, because it was for a school science fair and not for some other endeavor,” Grant said. “They seemed excited that we were doing this.”by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Judge Kevin Mueller offers feedback to WHS seniors Josh Hight and Natalie Stout on their presentation of facial recognition reliability.

The experiment was designed to test the effect of genetic modification on the plant’s photosynthesis capabilities. All the plants grown from GMO seeds were destroyed well before maturity. Although Grant and Jake noticed differences between the GMO seedlings and their control group of conventional corn, their experiment yielded no statistically significant results.

“We’re debating between continuing with a slightly different GMO project or doing and engineering project” for next year’s fair, Grant said.

Next year’s fair, like this one and every one before it since 2001, was sponsored by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s CREST Center. CREST’s Amy Schaeur, with her assistant Julia Betts, guided student research and provided resources and encouragement at every stage.

“When Grant Sutton and Jake Nielson proposed this project ... they were advised, just based on what we’d heard in the media, that getting ahold of genetically modified corn was going to be next to impossible, because it was an intellectual, proprietary sort of thing,” Schaeur said. “I told Grant, every year somebody surprises me. They definitely surprised me this year.”

CREST Director Bob Carlson said the science fair model is firmly rooted in the school district.

“It’s a huge part of our curriculum, K-12,” he said. “All the primary schools have a science fair now, and this is the second year of a judged middle school fair. There’s a focus, all the way through, on kids doing research, learning to ask questions and interpret data.”

Carlson takes a long view of the science fair, and he finds that view impressive.

“The thing I love is seeing kids I knew in kindergarten, and they’re now in high school doing projects I don’t even understand,” he said.

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