Sandy students excel at science fair, four advance to internationals
Sandy resident and Midvale Middle School sixth-grader Marianne Liu finished second at the regional Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering Fair with her project “Saavy Salt,” and received an invitation to apply to the national fair. (Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering Fair)
A Sandy student may have discovered a faster, more accurate way to identify macular degeneration.
“When it is treated sooner, there will be less damage and hopefully, not result in blindness,” said Alex Cheng, who is a sophomore at Hillcrest High in Midvale. “The earlier to detect it, the better. Some judges at the science fair seemed really interested since they or their family members have macular degeneration.”
Cheng said that currently 11 million people are affected by the disease, but projections are that number will double by 2050.
“This could help serve as a pre-screening, especially for people who live in rural areas,” he said about his science fair project that results in an initial diagnosis in 30 seconds instead of current longer methods.
Cheng, who entered his method that combines medical diagnostics with computer science in “Analysis of Retinal Fundus Images to Detect Macular Degeneration Using Machine-learning Methods” not only won his materials and biomedical engineering senior division category, but he also was one of four Sandy High School students who won the Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering Fair to advance to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. He also received a special award from Recursion Pharmaceuticals.
Joining him to compete for college scholarships at the Intel fair are Alex Sun of Hillcrest High and Emma Sun of Waterford with their project, “Understanding Compassion Fade”; and Tanisha Martheswaran of Waterford with “Waste Embraced 2.0: A Novel Study of the Effects of Optimized Struvite Precipitation on Biogas Production and Resource Recovery from Municipal Landfill Leachate and Wastewater Centrate.”
The Sun siblings took first with their project in behavioral and social sciences; Tanisha won in chemical and physical energy; Hillcrest High’s Sai Parsawar was second in medicine and health sciences with “MS of MS: An Investigation of the Cerebrospinal Fluid Proteome of Multiple Sclerosis Patients Using Bruker maXis II ETD Mass Spectrometry”; Hillcrest High’s Alan Zhao was third in physics, astronomy and math with “Modeling Traffic Flow Using Advanced Mathematics”; and Beehive Academy’s Nihal Kariparduc and Zachary Maynard were fourth in chemistry with “Can Mineral Oil Solidify Motor Oil?”
Cheng said although he has spent about six months doing research on his own, his method is in its infancy and will still need more development.
“I like that through science fair, I’ve learned there is not one set solution. I can creatively think in different ways and discover my own ways to approach problems,” he said.
In addition to the high school students, eight elementary and junior division students received an invitation to apply to the National Broadcom Science Fair.
Fair Manager Jody Oostema said 41 projects, or the top 10 percent of the Salt Lake Valley’s fair, receives invitations. From there, it is narrowed down to about 300 semifinalists nationwide.
“We usually have two to six students reach semifinals and a few in the finals,” she said. “We’ve seen some new innovative ways to solve problems.”
Albion Middle School seventh-grader Fatima Zaidi, who got third in her junior division of chemistry, already has started working on the essay questions on the Broadcom application.
Fatima, who would like to be a medical doctor, said her project, “Enzyme-Catalyzed Reactions — What Affects Their Rates?” inspired her.
“It fascinates me a lot,” she said. “I realize I could do more than work to learn how temperature affects the liver’s rates, but also the stomach and go more in-depth. I was intrigued by the project; it was so cool. I learned everything around the world involves science and that every problem can be critically thought about so we could help the world’s problems.”
Solving real-world problems, such as birds striking airplanes commonly made known through “the Miracle on the Hudson,” was an underlying motivation for Midvale Middle School sixth-graders Eric Snaufer and Abigail Slama-Catron, who both live in Sandy. Their air-scare device prototype worked in relocating birds from nesting in the air fields after two weeks of testing it at Salt Lake International Airport.
“We used an anemometer to determine the air flow in a connector to the portable device we built as well as determine the air flow for various air socks we sewed,” said Eric, who said they worked on the project for months. “I was surprised we did so well.”
In addition to winning their elementary division category of mechanical engineering with their project “Rough Air,” they also won special awards from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Utah Department of Transportation.
Other Sandy Broadcom Masters invitees include Ruby Gardner, Marianne Liu, Alexandria McOmber, Drew Stevens and Gabriel Williams.
Beehive Academy’s Nihal Kariparduc and Zachary Maynard received the Stockholm Junior Water Prize with “Can Mineral Oil Solidify Motor Oil?”
Through the 13 years Oostema has managed the fair, she said she’s seen numerous science fair projects, but every once in a while, she will see one that is unique. Such is the case with Beehive Academy’s Tim Holt, who finished fourth in biology and biochemistry with “Is 40 Years Too Old?”
“I’ve never seen a student test 40-year-old flour. He tested it through baking and the it was really a unique project,” she said.
Tim, who found the flour in his grandparents’ food storage, saved it from being thrown out to test it by smell, color and texture after baking it into bread and testing it against other flour.
“The old flour was much, much worse,” he said. “It was sour. I didn’t taste it, but my mom did as one of my official tasters.”
Oostema said that this year, Salt Lake Valley’s 15th annual fair had 724 elementary through high school participants, a record number of students, with 57 percent being female. That is an increase of about 500 students since 2005, and the number of projects this year is up 16 from last year, to 573.
In addition to private and charter schools, the fair includes public school students from Salt Lake, Granite, Murray, Tooele, Park City and Canyons school districts.
Next year, the fair will undergo a name change to University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair, which will reflect the host school, she said. She added that this year’s fair was inspiring.
“It’s an impressive fair, and sometimes I’m just blown away with what students come up with,” she said.