DSES at 2020 Pikes Peak Regional Science Fair

Written by Gary Agranat. Photos by Tony Bigbee.

Bill Miller, Tony Bigbee, and I (Gary Agranat) served last month as judges at the 2020 Pikes Peak Regional Science Fair. The Fair was held at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on Saturday February 22nd. Tony served as a general judge, representing the Fair. Bill and I served as special judges representing our radio telescope group, the Deep Space Exploration Society. The Fair is there to encourage students in grades 6 through 12 to explore and develop their interests in science and engineering. The Pikes Peak Regional Fair supports students from Elbert, El Paso, Park, and Teller County counties, whether they are in a school or home schooled.

About $8000 in prizes and special awards are given each year from the Fair and special groups like ours. The Fair prizes are divided into subject area categories, like physical sciences, plant sciences, environment, biomedicine, chemistry, and energy/transportation. There are overall Grand Prizes, and prizes in each of the High School and Junior High School Divisions. Students are also awarded invitations to the State Science Fair.

DSES was one of 43 organizations that sponsored special prizes. This year DSES sponsored 4 awards: 1st prizes and honorable mention awards, for both the Senior and Junior High School student categories. Our 1st prizes included an award of $50. This is our second year judging and sponsoring prizes.

DSES this year also supported a high school student, Xander Duvall, who is interested in astronomy and physics.

The DSES Judging and Prizes

Only about 60 students entered this year’s Science Fair, compared to about a hundred last year. Nonetheless, in our opinions, the projects were generally good and well-motivated. One could see the students’ hearts were in it. A number of projects were motivated with real concern for society. Many of the solutions were often quite innovative and truly pushing what had been done before. Even when the projects were not so far reaching, one could tell the students were trying things and learning from their experiences.

Bill and I decided on a 4-part grading system for judging. We wanted to keep this simple, straight forward and manageable, and meaningful. For each student we interviewed, we assigned a grade of 1 to 5 in each of these major areas:

  1. How well they framed their problem
  2. The quality of their data, which included quality of their testing and how they conducted their experiments.
  3. The quality of their analysis, which included how thorough their work was and how well they were able to explain it.
  4. The value added from their work: the general impact to society and science or engineering, and to their own development. A sub category of #4 included, if possible, the value added to the subject areas relevant to DSES work: i.e., astronomy, especially radio astronomy, and any of the engineering, computer, and science areas that enable that work, like data analysis and experimenting with antennas. Those topics are not necessarily easy to get into, and so we wanted to encourage and help young people get exposure to those topics.

We then used our grades as guides to holistically assess all of the students afterwards. In 5 to 10 minutes of interviewing each student, and looking at their work and presentations, it is a challenge to get an objective view of the full work. The quieter time afterwards gave us time to reflect more fully, and let impressions that were working in the background contribute and give us a fuller answer.

Our goal was to support the young people in developing their quality in all 4 of those areas. I think Bill and I were satisfied with the awards we decided on. There were many excellent projects and several of those were outstanding. We were special judges in our own defined special category. We couldn’t award to everyone that we thought worthy. But in our decisions, we indicated the strengths and qualities we wanted the young people to continue to develop for themselves. We interviewed 7 students in the Junior High School Division and 7 students in the Senior High School Division. We were impressed with and proud of all of the students we interviewed.

We decided on these awards:

  • Junior Outstanding: Naomi Kruse (6th grade) “I speak for the trees: Tree-ring analysis of pinus ponderosa to learn local climate history” . Naomi took slices from about 30 trees that were damaged in the Black Forest fire a few years ago. She systematically analyzed the tree rings and was able to correlate climate change well back into the 19th century.
  • Junior Honorable Mention: Sara Wilson (8th grade) “Mind your message”. Sara successfully developed a smart garage door opening system that can be operated simply with a home computer and not requiring a smart phone.
  • Senior Outstanding: Kathryn Kummel (11th grade) “Investigating the urban heat island phenomenon through modeling, satellite data, and on-site measurements”. Kathryn did a multi-faceted study. She examined LANDSAT data of Colorado Springs to get a broad view. She looked at mathematical modeling of temperature and heat response of different surfaces. She checked with measurements of her own. And she made sample roof surfaces to test which would best mitigate heat generation in an urban environment.
  • Senior Honorable Mention: Xander Duvall (9th grade) “Analysis of neutral hydrogen radio emissions in the Milky Way galactic plane”.

Xander was the student we supported. He had come to us just earlier this year. We discussed with him his interests and what we were doing. We only had enough time to provide him with some data, to try to analyze and understand. The data we gave him was from a drift scan with our 60-foot dish of the 21 cm HI hydrogen spectral signal, scanning across the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Xander was able to research the background and develop a sharp presentation with some good explanations and illustrations. We hope Xander will continue to explore and develop his experience with astronomy research. He got a good start, and there is potential for lots of good solid work. Meanwhile, Xander earned several other awards at the Fair: the NASA EARTH System Science Award, the Northrop Grumman Special Awards in Science and Engineering (Sr.Div.), and the Senior Division People’s Choice (which is a popular vote by everyone who attends the Fair).

Additional DSES members helped Xander, including Rich Russel in supporting him with the observational data.

Xander Duvall, a 9th grade student at the Thomas MacLaren School, with his presentation ‘‘Analysis of neutral hydrogen radio emissions in the MilkyWay galactic plane’’. With Gary Agranat and Bill Miller at the Pikes Peak Regional Science Fair.

These are the students we interviewed.

  • JA3) Ezra Voth [03:58] Measuring water flow through specific placements of rocks on varying inclinations to reduce soil attrition.
  • JA4) Naomi Kruse [03:49] I speak for the trees: Tree-ring analysis of pinus ponderosa to learn local climate history
  • JC1) Ava Connelly [01:48] ‘‘Electricity free emergency’’
  • JD1) Sara Wilson [06:06] ‘‘Mind your message’’
  • JD3) Aditya Gonella [06:50] :‘‘A hiker’s third eye’’
  • JD5) Shrey Rohilla [02:50] ‘‘Windmill wonders’’
  • JD7) Phoenix Doyle [02:42] ‘‘Electromagnetism’’
  • SA6) Hudson Kruse [06:15] ‘‘Searching for blunders: Discovering the relative factors which influence faulty thought process in chess”
  • SB5) Jesus Gil [01:21] ‘‘Durability of casein plastic’’
  • SD1) Steven Lewis [02:20] ‘‘Cyber security engineering for aircraft’’ (Using AI machine learning to counter vulnerability of aircraft ADS-B)
  • SD2) Gryphon Patlin & Zakery Snider [06:32] ‘‘A device to digitally assist and enhance perception’’
  • SD4) Xander Duvall [03:17] ‘‘Analysis of neutral hydrogen radio emissions in the Milky Way galactic plane’’
  • SD5) Axton Hiltion [00:30] ‘‘Mitigating the cost of expensive solar repair by shielding environmental effects’’
  • SE6) Kathryn Kummel [02:59] ‘‘Investigating the urban heat island phenomenon through modeling, satellite data, and on-site measurements’’

In the near future, Bill and I plan to meet over coffee and assess our lessons learned. We’ll think about how we did, our criteria, and what we want to do going forward for the next science fairs, for supporting the young people in developing their work, and in judging at the fairs.

The Science Fair has a website. Pikes Peak Regional Science Fair. There you can learn more details about the Fair and the awards. They also have a nicely done video that highlights the students with their presentations and the experience of participating in the Fair. https://vimeo.com/393350748 The times in brackets in our above list of the students we interviewed are when they appear with their presentations in the video.

This is 8th grade student Ava Connelly, one of the students we interviewed. Her project was to test the suitability and effectiveness of several heat sources that could provide a small heated space for a baby, independent of the power grid during emergencies. Or these could be used in developing countries. She cited data that the risk of Sudden Infant Death Disease is greater if the baby is not kept at safe temperature. Her result was that of the devices she tested, the USB hand warmer would work best (the power could come from a hand cranked USB power generator).