Six West Linn-Wilsonville high school students competed at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix May 12-17, and four students received special awards.
Wilsonville High School senior Nathan Tidball received second place in the material science category, $1,500 and an asteroid named after him.
From West Linn High School, siblings Neel and Pooja Jain received $2,000 for the USAID Science for Development third-place award, $500 for fourth place in the embedded systems category and $4,000 was given to WLHS from the K. Soumyanath Memorial Award.
Jessica Yu, also from WLHS, received $1,000 for placing third in the systems software category and the GoDaddy — a web hosting company — Mobile Applications to the Rescue Award for $1,500 in GoDaddy services.
Tidball — who's been selected for the international fair four times for his projects and placed third the past two years — traveled to Phoenix for his invention of an antimicrobial plastic that kills bacteria.
"I was in a third place little slump there (so), it feels like I've made progress. It's pretty rewarding," Tidball said. "It was nice because this was the most rigorous project I've taken on, and I'm proud I placed well."
Tidball's favorite part of the fair was the international aspect. With about 2,000 students from 80 different countries and territories in attendance, Tidball was able to meet young scientists from Singapore, Brazil and Israel.
"It was pretty amazing," he said.
For senior Pooja and freshman Neel — who were selected for their invention of a search and rescue drone — the experience was a way to reconnect with old friends from past fairs and make new connections.
"I did not really feel any pressure there since I approached it as more of a fun trip, filled with things that suited my scientific interests," Pooja said.
Yu, a senior who developed a camera-based method of detection to prevent drowning that uses an artificial intelligence head detector to analyze swimmers' heads for drowning behavior, said she felt lucky to have had the opportunity to discuss her project with professionals and students from all over the world.
"My method is more accurate than existing techniques because it is not confused by noise in dynamic pool environments and for this reason, it presents a promising step forward in the field of vision-based drowning detection," Yu said. "I am truly honored to have gotten this far because it means experts in the field recognize the validity and the feasibility of this project."
Wilsonville High chemistry teacher Jim O'Connell had the opportunity to attend the science fair this year and said it was the most inspiring event he has attended in his 31 years of teaching.
"Every student or teacher I met from literally around the world came with an upbeat and problem-solving attitude in examining a multitude of global issues ranging from energy generation, to searching for individuals in natural disasters, to advancing surgery and cancer fighting technologies," O'Connell said. "The students and teachers were all united in the universal language and thought process of science. I could not be more grateful that I had the opportunity to attend."
O'Connell also had the chance to work personally with Tidball as his teacher and through ISEF. He said Tidball's project this year was the student's most creative scientific work.
"This was a phenomenal accomplishment for anyone in materials science research at any college research institution," O'Connell said. "He did this in the prep room of the chemistry lab as a high school senior."
Though no students have plans to continue working on their current science projects, Neel hopes to tweak the search and rescue drone before considering it to be complete.
"We need to make a few more modifications before we are fully finished with our prototype to share with anyone who might want it," he said.
Yu said her involvement with ISEF has made her excited to continue to pursue systems software in college.
"This experience— and ISEF as a whole — has really opened my eyes to the power of any person to cultivate change and engineer meaningful solutions to problems," she said.