News From Prep
Posted March 20, 2012
A Closer Examination of Prep’s Annual Science Fair
Displays and posters filled the gym from wall to wall on February 23rd as students showcased their Science Fair projects for an audience of judges, parents, and classmates. Judges spent the morning individually assessing projects in their assigned categories before convening in small groups to interview and rank the top contenders. Parents and students stopped by throughout the day to browse. And in the evening awards were presented to the finest examples of research based on rigorous methods and quality data. But beyond accolades, the Science Fair challenged students to search their environment for facts about topics and issues they’re enthusiastic about. Their questions, and the answers they found, reveal the impressive breadth and curiosity present in Prep’s student body.
Seventh graders submitted projects in Physics and Chemistry, Behavior and Performance, and Biology. Their research was based on the scientific method and largely sought to answer questions about everyday situations. Students like Laura Ratliff ’17 showed tremendous initiative collecting their data. To find out how dust buildup affects her family’s solar panel, Ratliff repeatedly emailed her electrical utility and a solar energy company to gather data about the panel’s energy production. She then analyzed the data to determine how the panel’s production changed when it was washed versus unclean. Her efforts earned her a second place finish in Physics and Chemistry. She received third place in her category in the LA County Science Fair.
Erin Rawles ‘17 explored how music affects people’s feelings while they’re reading. She asked several classmates to read the same passage while listening to music with various “moods” and examined how the music influenced their feelings about the passage. Pondering large potential applications, she believes this kind of information could benefit publishers who want to produce eBooks with musical accompaniment. Her sister, Aubrey Rawles ’17, focused on cats, which she adores, and investigated how different pet food brands impact feline weight. By studying 13 different cats, she discovered portion size is the largest factor in weight gain and her work earned an Honorable Mention in Biology.
Second place in Biology went to Evan Havunjian ’17, who asked, “Which colors are most attractive to bees?” In one of the more exhaustive projects, Havunjian began with a pilot project that determined sponges are an attractive material for bees. Armed with this knowledge, he set different colored sponges in his yard and observed how many bees were attracted to each color. Renae Tamura ’17 initially wondered how hydrogen peroxide affects plant growth only to find this question has been thoroughly researched. Rather than abandoning her original curiosity, Tamura adapted it to ask a more complex question. She examined how hydrogen peroxide affects plant absorption by measuring plant uptake of colored water. Tamura won first place in Biology and along with Havunjian will attend the County Fair.
Jonathan Vahala ’17 won Best of Fair in Physics and Chemistry for his work analyzing sunscreen. He went on to win first in his category at the LA County Science Fair. He wondered whether higher SPF sunscreens really block UVB radiation more effectively than lower SPF products, something many have wondered while making a selection in the store. When his first idea for applying sunscreen to leather didn’t work out, Jonathan adjusted his protocol to make serial dilutions and perform spectral analysis. He received assistance making his measurements but revealed a complete understanding of the data he collected, as well as its significance. He concluded that the various SPFs all block UVB radiation equally and his project will also make its way to the County Fair.
Eighth graders developed Community Impact Projects (CIPs) that performed a service and attempted to measure the impact on their communities, much as any service organization or non-profit must do. The categories were Education and Environment, Arts and Sports, and Social Services. Some students, like Jacob Brawer ’16, attempted to apply what they learned in seventh grade and quantify the outcome. A year ago, Jacob examined how violent video games affect memory and uncovered a negative correlation. This year, he took second place in Education and Environment with a public service speech to students at Crestview Preparatory School where he spoke against overindulging violent video games to the point of reduced memory retention.
Other students stuck to topics that resonated with them personally. Nanita Balagopal ’16 loves dancing and set up a booth at Pasadena Child Development Associates’ Art Saturday to teach hip hop. She worked with kids that have learning disabilities and measured her impact by surveying their appreciation of hip hop after the event, how much fun they had, and how well she taught the lesson. In a similar vein, Alexis Gordon ’16 channeled her passion for art into helping Don Benito Fundamental School’s art program. Gordon organized an art show in Miller Theater displaying pieces created by Don Benito’s students. She collected donations at the door and will measure her impact by measuring how many basic materials Don Benito can purchase for its Arts Program with the money raised.
In a first for CIPs, Will Gutzman’s ’16 fieldwork projecting the effect of a soundwall over the freeway next to Prep will appear at the County Fair. One of the few CIPs to collect data beyond surveys, Gutzman recorded sound levels at various locations on Prep’s campus and analyzed the effectiveness of various freeway soundwalls to form his projections. Gutzman also shared his findings with local government and took fourth place in the Education and Environment category.
Seeing an opportunity to expand a successful program close to home, Naomi Berhane ’16 partnered with McKinley School in Pasadena to implement a leadership program analogous to Prep’s Senior Leaders Program. Modeling the way Prep’s seniors mentor younger students in all academic subjects, drama and sports, Berhane established a program where sixth graders at McKinley work with younger students in several subjects.
High school students participated in the fair as well, with projects analyzing the efficiency of electrolysis, optimizing particle physics, and techniques for monitoring heart rate. One of the most interesting projects came from Shaneli Jain ’14 who created an equation for a universal calendar. Jain created long lists of all the days in consecutive months and searched them for patterns. As she developed her equation, she discovered how crucial leap years are to maintaining accurate time keeping and how quickly the calendar would go out of sync without them, with winter months arriving during the summer. Ask her what day of the week your birthday will arrive in 2050 and she can tell you.
In examining projects, judges look for scientific methodologies, uncontaminated data, and large sample sizes. But going from one project to the next, observers can’t help but feel a bit like researchers themselves, collecting data on Prep’s students, their interests, and the answers they’re willing to uncover with long hours of effort. If this year’s fair is any indication, their future inquiries will be informed by the techniques they learned and the excitement they gained by discovering that somewhere, something incredible is always waiting to be known.
Click here to download a PDF of all the 2012 Science Fair winners.
Click here to download Community Impact Project descriptions.