Keeping the light bulb bright

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By Kirsten Laskey

Pioneers in science placed Los Alamos in history’s spotlight and that trend continued during the International Science and Engineering Fair, May 12-15 in Reno, Nev. The townsite’s new generation of scientists seemed to ensure the light blub of creativity and great ideas will not be turned off.

Los Alamos High School sophomore Alexander Kendrick and senior Caroline Wurden participated in the international competition, comprised of 1,500 students from 56 countries, and they came out among the top winners.

To get into the fair, finalists were selected from affiliated science fairs. At the international fair, their projects were evaluated by 900 judges from nearly every scientific discipline.

Kendrick’s project, “The Underground Radio II,” earned multiple awards including Best of Category and first place in the electrical and mechanical engineering category.

The Best of Category rewarded Kendrick with $5,000, a new laptop, $1,000 to LAHS and $1,000 to New Mexico State Science Fair.

His first-place finish earned him $3,000. Kendrick’s other awards included an asteroid named on his behalf and a trip to Geneva, Switzerland, to tour the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s CERN. The trip will be held June 28-July 2.

Additionally, he earned a first-place award of $1,500 from the International Council on Systems Engineering, a grand-prize award of $1,000 from the Patent and Trademark Office Society and a framed copy of the first patent granted in the U.S., a distinguish achievement award of $1,250 from the Society of Exploration Geophysicists and a trip to the SEG International Exposition and Annual Meeting in Houston.

 Wurden’s project, “Determining the Orbital Elements of Minor Planet 2365” earned second place in the physics and astronomy category. She was awarded a $1,500 prize and a $500 scholarship from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and the American Astronomical Society Priscilla and Bart Bok Award.

Plus, Wurden has the distinction of being the only New Mexico high school senior to attend the international science fair three times.

Last year, she earned the Best of Category for her project, “Great Balls of Fire.”

Both LAHS students described the international fair as a great experience.

“It was a lot of fun,” Wurden said. In regards to her performance at the fair, she said, “I was very excited. It was gratifying to see my work appreciated.”

“I was really shocked,” Kendrick said when he learned that he had earned the Best of Category award. He said he was really hoping to win something so when he won this major award, “it took awhile for my feet to get down to earth.”

Like Wurden, Kendrick is an international science fair veteran. He attended the international fair last year in Atlanta, Ga.

In fact, his project is a continuation of the one he presented in Atlanta.

Last year, he explained, he built a low frequency radio, 180 kilo-hertz, which was based on someone else’s design and used Morse code communication. The radio would be used in rescue operations in caves.

This year, Kendrick said, he modeled a different frequency for an operational goal of 300 meters using digital communication.

Additionally, he modeled a transmitter and receiver circuit to receive the communication.

Kendrick also wrote a computer program that could transmit text messages through rock.

As a result, rescuers could have a hard copy of critical patients’ information, which would speed up the time of the rescue.

Kendrick said he has done cave-related science projects since he was in elementary school. He was trying to come up with some new ideas for a project, when he was speaking to some cavers and learned how hard it is to conduct rescues in certain caves.

As a result, he “developed a radio system that would allow (people) to communicate through limestone rock to improve the speed of rescues.”

Similar to Kendrick, Wurden has an asteroid named after her and it is this asteroid that became the focus of her science project.

She calculated the orbit of Minor Planet 2365. In her project, Wurden said she used data from the Raptor telescope at Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as from the Magdelena Observatory at New Mexico Tech.

She said she calculated the asteroid’s orbit with .5 percent accuracy.

“I was interested in this asteroid because it was named after me two years ago at the Albuquerque International Science and Engineering Fair,” Wurden explained.

Wurden and Kendrick each had their own highlights during the fair.

Wurden said, “I like talking with other participants and talking with the judges about my project.”

For Kendrick, a highlight was the pin exchange. He said he met people from all over the world. But the biggest highlight was getting his award.

Both Kendrick and Wurden encourage others to get involved in the science fairs.

“First, it’s a lot of fun,” Wurden said. “(You) met a lot of great people, judges and participants. Second, it’s a good way to broaden your horizons in science … third, you can win scholarships.”

Kendrick recommended people attend science fairs because “it’s really fun and if you want to broaden your horizons … in science and engineering … it lets do what you want do and not be restricted by curriculum.”

Kendrick is already cooking up an idea for next year’s project. He said he has an idea for a project but is not sure how he will carry it out. One thing is for sure, it will involve caves.

Wurden is also going to be carrying on her work in science. She will attend U.C. Berkley and plans to  major in physics.