Idaho students make history at International Science and Engineering Fair

CALDWELL — Before they even graduated high school, Brooklyn Legg and six other students became science pioneers who hope to mentor younger students.

That’s because they became the first Idaho students to represent the state and compete at last month’s International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.

The teams from Vision Charter School, Centennial High School, Twin Falls High School and Grangeville High School qualified by winning one of Idaho’s first regional science fairs this year. The STEM Action Center sponsored the teams’ trip, and sent other students to attend and learn from their experience.

“We were the first ones to ever have done this now in Idaho,” Brooklyn said. “We made a little history, and now we’d like to mentor other students from Idaho so they can be successful.”

The teams included:

Twin Falls High School

Kayson Hansen and Kylee Hansen

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Project: “Detecting exo-planet transits via CCD photometry”

Vision Charter School, Caldwell, Idaho

Luke Campbell, Brooklyn Legg and T.J. Herndon

Project: “High-efficiency rocket nozzles”

Centennial High School, West Ada School District

Sriram Gopalakrishnan

Project: “Android application development for object recognition with OpenCV”

Grangeville High School

Amrit Singh

Project: “The effect of gas price on consumer purchases”

Until this year, Idaho lacked statewide or regional science fairs that were affiliated with the international science fair, STEM Action Center Executive Director Angela Hemingway said.

In response, the state launched three regional science fairs. Then Hemingway and STEM Action Center officials partnered with sponsors including Micron and Idaho National Laboratory to support the student entries and sponsor their travel and lodging at the international science fair.

“It was a really significant undertaking to make this happen,” Hemingway said.

That effort paid dividends for the four qualifying teams.

For the Vision Charter School project, Luke, Brooklyn and T.J. measured the efficiency of three different configurations of launch nozzles on hobby rockets. Compared to standard designs, they found one of their alternative designed to be more efficient, which they said would translate to large amounts of fuel savings.

Although they enjoyed representing Idaho, Vision’s team was inspired by the chance to compete alongside more than 1,700 other students from across the United States and 78 countries.

And the competition was stiff, to be sure. Vision students and their teacher, Jason George, said some competitors already had their launched their own online startups or apps.

“I enjoyed seeing the projects at the competition and how they were all so innovative,” T.J. said. “You really are looking into the future of science.”

When the students weren’t competing, they got VIP passes to Hollywood amusement parks, visited Venice Beach, attended a social mixer at an L.A. club that was reconfigured to cater to minors and participated in opening ceremonies with hundreds of other students.

Once on the ground, the Idaho team made fast friends during coveted pin exchanges among competitors. The local teams had Idaho-themed pins to trade, and because Idaho had never participated before, students from all over the world were dying to meet the teams and get their hands on the collectible pins.

George, Vision’s science department head, was impressed by the quality of his students’ work and their willingness to extend research on a project they began in chemistry class last year to several more months of gathering data and measurement.

“The experience was invaluable,” George said. “It helped me nail down the things I need to do and the tools I need to give my kids to navigate the research process.”

Seeing his students compete at such a high level, and being overwhelmed by the quality of work produced by high school students the world over, also inspired George in other ways.

“It was really good for me to see how many intelligent, smart young people there are out there,” George said. “It makes me super hopeful for our future.”

Professional development opportunity for teachers

The STEM Action Center is sponsoring three regional professional development workshops this summer for teachers who want to incorporate science fair projects into their curriculum. The goal is help teachers prepare students for Idaho’s regional science fairs, and ultimately a chance to compete at next year’s International Science and Engineering Fair. STEM Action Center officials plan to select 60 teachers for the workshop. Participating teachers will be eligible to receive $3,000 that can be used toward competing in regional science fairs and attending professional development workshops. Winners will be notified June 12.

To apply, visit the STEM Action Center’s website and click the tab for “Idaho science and engineering fair educator training” or send an e-mail to [email protected]