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The Future’s So Bright

2013 March 21

By Jeffery Robichaud

I had the opportunity to spend some time a week ago helping to judge the 62nd annual Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair at Union Station, and represent the Agency at the Awards Ceremony at Bartle Hall (this was my view of the back of local newscaster Phil Witt).

There were well over 600 projects from over a thousand students spanning all of the major science and engineering categories (chemistry, biology, sociology, astronomy…but sadly no cartography, sorry Casey).  One of the categories was Environmental Science and Renewable Energy, which a team of folks from EPA helped to judge.  Projects were divided up into Senior, Junior, and Intermediate categories, so we split up into three groups  and naturally, I’ll split this up into three blog entries with some help from my friends.

I helped judge the Senior High Projects with two of my colleagues from our Superfund Division, Katy Miley, an On-Scene Coordinator and Chair of EPA’s Women in Science and Engineering program in Region 7, and Robert Webber, Superfund and Technology Liaison (STL) from ORD’s Office of Science Policy.  We had a really tough time selecting only three award winners from the roughly two dozen projects on display.

We awarded first place in the Environmental category to Paige Larison  from West Platte High School, in Weston MO.  Her project was entitled, Cracking Up and was an experiment that evaluated the use of a viscous additive to a fluid as an analog to the fluids used in the hydrofracturing process for energy production.   The project evaluated the potential to reduce the unintended migration of these fluids outside of the intended subsurface zone of focus.  The project was clear, concise, and well articulated and the results showed the potential to limit unintended fluid migration.  Pretty heady stuff for a high-schooler.

Second place went to Joseph Cokington of Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, KS and his project, Use of Organic Products to Reduce Corrosive Effects of Commercial Road De-Icers.  Joseph had a great project where he utilized oil derived from pine needles as an additive to deicing compounds in an effort to reduce corrosion.  Deicers themselves can have a negative effect on the environment, raising chloride levels in streams when snow eventually melts, but when automobiles rust, metals slough off and also find their way into streams.

Third place went to Triton Wolfe from Olathe North High School, in Olathe KS, whose project was entitled, Effectiveness of Indigenous Microbial Inoculation on the Organic Municipal Solid Waste Composting Process.  His project used experimental bioreactors comprised of fruit and vegetable waste to evaluate microbial activity.  The experiment used spectrophotometry, temperature comparisons, carbon-nitrogen ratios, and results from previous studies.    A detailed statistical analysis was performed.    Triton’s project showed the ability to increase the speed of the composting process by inoculating new compost piles with established compost pile materials.   Definitely a lesson those of you hardcore composters might consider applying.

It was difficult to pick just three from all of the projects, as the entire group was really fantastic.  Although this might have been a tough call for us, it is an easy call to say that our future looks bright with so many budding scientists and engineers.  Stay tuned for future blog posts with the Junior and Intermediate winners.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  His one and only attempt at a Science Fair project in sixth grade ended up with unhatched eggs, a clandestine visit to a tack and feed store, and a guilty conscience (although thankfully since he won no award he was able to sleep that night).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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