Science Pioneers

Excellent Projects – Students Excelling

By Harvey Fries and Alisha Claycamp

The 62nd Greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair Intermediate Level Environmental and Renewable Energy projects were excellent. Chemists from Region 7 USEPA Science and Technology Center, Kansas City, Kansas awarded the agency’s first place in this category to a team from Lakewood Middle School, Overland Park, KS. Team members from left to right in the picture are Faduma Jarik, Hollis Haby, and Katherine Krishna.

Their project title was “The Effect of Hydrophobic Materials Resolving Freshwater Oil Spills”. Their abstract:

Many freshwater oil spills are ruining our waters. They are more common than saltwater oil spills and are causing more damage. We thought that hydrophobic materials would soak up the oil and it is hypothesized that: the hydrophobic sand will soak up the most oil in our freshwater oil spill simulation.
Our procedure was to gather all the materials and put 1 cup of water and half a cup of oil in a beaker, then put in half a cup of one of the 4 hydrophobic materials (hydrophobic sand, wax , lotus leaves, Fibertect) in the simulation. Wait 15 minutes. Record the results of how much oil was soaked up by the material. Repeat for 2 more trials and repeat again for the other three materials. Unlike the hypothesis stated above, the Fibertect soaked up the most oil, lotus leaves soaked up the oil second best, wax soaked it up third best, and the hydrophobic sand soaked up the least oil. Therefore, our results do not support the hypothesis. We think it happened this way because the Fibertect has more layers than any other material we tested. The hydrophobic sand was very thin unlike the other materials and couldn’t hold much oil.

Hollis Haby is a sixth grader at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park, KS. She lives with her parents, brother, two cats, and one dog. Hollis’ favorite activities are playing softball and volleyball. Her future plans are to be a middle school reading teacher.

Faduma Jarik is a sixth grader at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park, KS. She lives with her parents, brother, sister, and step-brother. Faduma’s favorite activities are playing on her i-Pod and being outside. Her future plans are to be a writer in the professional world.

Katherine Krishna is a sixth grader at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park, KS. She lives with her parents and brother. Katherine’s favorite activities are playing soccer and reading. Her future plans are to become an investment banker and to be rich.

Second place went to a team from Martin City Elementary, Kansas City, MO. Team members were Rosa Basurto-Reyes and Iridian Zurita-Lopez. Their project was titled “Effects of Acids & Bases on Plants”.

Third place in this category went to a team from St. Patrick School in Kansas City, MO. Team members were Chance Wagner and Peter Pellumbi. Their project was titled “Comparing Electrical Usage and Cost of Three Different 60 Watt Light Bulbs.


You can also check out the High School and Middle School winners. We had a really difficult time deciding on our top three science projects, a testament to how hard each of the students had worked.Maybe someday we will be lucky enough to have some of these bright kids come to work for EPA. Until then we can probably count on many more years of great projects from these budding scientists.

Harvey Fries and Alisha Claycamp are chemists with the Chemical Analysis and Response Branch of the Environmental Services Division, located at EPA Region 7′s Science and Technology Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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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Junior High Kids Rockin’ Senior High-like Projects

By Sam Porter

I also had the opportunity to judge Environmental projects  at the 62nd annual Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair.  The Junior Division contained two dozen projects from 7th and 8th graders.  It was an honor to judge these excellent projects with my fellow colleagues,  Daniel Dorn and Janece Koleis, both Organic Chemists in the Environmental Service Division.

We awarded first place in the Environmental category to Maelea Coulson from West Platte Junior High in Weston, MO.  Her project was entitled, An A-Peeling Filter.  She devised an experiment that demonstrated an alternative method of removing chromium from drinking water.  Typically, chromium is removed during drinking water treatment by the use of cation exchange or filtration with active carbon (charcoal).  In third world remote villages such processes for water purification are neither usually available nor sustainable.  Maelea’s experiment demonstrated that filtration of water with banana peels is an effective process for removing chromium in water.  This process is effective because banana peels contain carboxylic acids which bind to toxic metals and remove them from the water.  Maelea’s project was clear, concise, and well articulated and the results showed the effectiveness of banana peels in water purification.  This was certainly an impressive project for a middle-schooler.

Second place was awarded to Ashton Iteii from Trailridge Middle School in Lenexa, KS.  Her project was entitled, Before You Drink That…, and evaluated various techniques for removing coliform bacteria from water.  The techniques she evaluated were Iodination, Chlorination (from household bleach), and boiling.  In her project, samples were taken from three different sites in the Kansa City area.  Her procedure for evaluating each technique was very thorough and easy to follow.  Her results clearly showed these techniques are effective in the removal of both total and fecal coliform bacteria.  All-in-all, this was a very nice project.

The third place award in the Environmental category was presented to Lexie Chirpich from St. Andrew the Apostle Parish School in Gladstone, MO.  Her project was entitled, Drowning in Plastic.  Her project evaluated the impact of pollution from plastic products in waterways on water quality.  The quality of water was evaluated by measuring the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the polluted water.  Oxygen is produced and consumed in a stream ecosystem.   If more oxygen is consumed than is produced, dissolved oxygen levels decline and sensitive animals may move away, weaken, or die.  Her experiment was concise as potential variables in the test procedure were controlled.  Her results clearly showed that uncontaminated water had a higher level of DO than polluted water.  This project demonstrates the importance of proper trash disposal and the use of R3; Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle.  This is particularly important as it has been estimated that 100 billion plastic bags are used in a single year in the United States.

There were many great projects in the Environmental category for this age group.  We felt it necessary to also present an Honorable Mention Award to Keealondre Roseberry from Frontier School of Excellence in KansasCity, MO.  His project was entitled, Energy from Saltwater.  Salt molecules are made of sodium and chlorine ions.  Ions are atoms that have an electrical charge because they gain or lose an electron when bonded.  When salt is added to water, the water molecules pull the sodium and chlorine ions apart.  These ions are a good conductor of electricity as they carry the electrical charge through the water.  His project clearly demonstrated this principle.  Good thought was put into this project as it questions the potential use of saltwater as a sustainable energy source!

Even though these projects were highlighted, there were many other great projects in this category.  It was neat to see the talent and intellect of these middle-schoolers demonstrated through their projects.  As Jeff stated in his previous post, there is certainly a bright future for this up-and-coming scientists and engineers.

Sam Porter is a chemist with the Chemical Analysis and Response Branch of the Environmental Services Division, located at EPA Region 7’s Science and Technology Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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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The Future’s So Bright

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 here 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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