Recognizing the next generation of scientists

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By Kirsten Laskey

The Los Alamos High School cafeteria transformed Saturday from a place where students eat to a location where discoveries are unveiled.


During the Los Alamos County Science Fair, 232 students set up 214 projects, which were presented to judges. Later, awards were presented and the students who earned the opportunity to compete in the regional competition were announced.

Dawn Brown, curriculum specialist at Los Alamos Public Schools, said the numbers were down a little from previous years. However, she said it was probably due to the science fair being postponed a week because of the weather.

Nonetheless, poster board paraded down every inch of table top in the cafeteria. Students’ work covered every category from animal science to physics and astronomy.

Students from all grade levels participated in the fair.

There is a senior division for ninth-12th grades and a junior division for sixth and eighth-grades.

An elementary division is available for kindergarten through fifth grades class projects as well as fourth and fifth grade team and individual projects.  

Brown explained that judges tour sixth through 12th grade projects and students answer questions and defend their work.

“It’s quite an experience for the students to interact with judges and adults,” she said. “Kindergarten through fifth grade show projects but do not present. What was really exciting was our middle school and high school were so strong.”

Last year, she said six students from the middle school and high school competed, this year, the number rose to 13.  

The fair is open to the whole county and therefore an individual and a team entry from home school students were submitted.

Brown credits the interaction between the students and the teachers for this growth in participation.

At the high school, Brown said teachers talk to students and offer incentives to get involved in the science fair.

The work has paid off, she added. “These kids really bring in some quality projects. They’re just really sharp kids.”

Ryan and Holly Erickson were among the students who showed their smarts.

Ryan, a junior, and Holly, a freshman, presented a project titled, “Beat the Heat.”

According to their abstract, the siblings explored a reversible one-way heating panel.

The purpose of this project, they stated in the abstract, was to see whether the concept of the linear heat pipe can be adapted into a transverse panel and if it can be caused to function as both conductor and insulator.  

Holly explained their reasons for exploring this particular subject are personal. She said their grandfather was part of the group that built the first heating pipe at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

This is not the first time they have competed in the science fair. Ryan said he has essentially been born and bred in science. He has always been tinkering.

He added the competition is a great way to prepare for doing research as well as a great way to meet people.

Holly added the science fair is an opportunity to show off the things she does as well as learn more about what she is interested in.

Sixth-grader Cole Kendrick also participated in the fair. His project measured the rotational speed of Jupiter.

“I enjoyed working on a project,” he said.

Kendrick said it was his first time presenting to the judges and he encourages other students to get involved in the science fair. “I think it’s fun and exciting thing to do and you learn new things,” he said.

Many adults admired what the students had accomplished.

“I think they were pretty interesting,” Juan Barraza of Los Alamos said. “I think some of them were fairly original.”

Laurinda Bennett of Los Alamos said, “I think it’s exciting to see the variety of things the kids are learning and are interested to explore.”

Brown commended the community for its support of the event.

“The community supports the science fair so heavily. We have about 30 organizations that donate cash and awards,” she said.