Colorado students put to test at science and engineering fair

Science fair 1

Anti-gravity devices. Fracking. A resource-efficient way to bathe.

The 60th Annual Colorado Science and Engineering Fair covered the gamut in topic and scope as students from around the state brought their research to the Lory Student Center April 9-11. The competition, held each year at Colorado State University, attracts many of Colorado’s best and brightest young minds.

The participants are students in grades 6-12 who have already competed at a regional science fair and earned a ticket to the state-level contest. At stake is more than $150,000 in prizes and scholarships.

The research and displays are truly impressive.

Isabel, an eighth grader from Pueblo (who asked to withhold her last name), showcased a device she says could be applied to getting spacecraft aloft more efficiently.

“Ninety percent of a spacecraft’s weight is used up by fuel and material to store it,” she says. Imagine, she tells onlookers, if we could turn the tables on the technology we use to escape Earth’s gravity.

So she’s giving it a shot. Her device, called the Mass Imbalance Drive, is made up of machined stainless steel and aluminum gears, supports, and sprockets; its purpose is to harness rotational motion, using the displacement of quickly spinning weights to create a net force imbalance pointed in only one direction: up.

In a recent test, the device, powered by a carpenter’s hand drill and running at over 500 rpm, successfully counteracted three-quarters of its own weight – a force of 30 pounds – while sitting on a scale.

Ever the scientist, though, Isabel won’t consider it a success until that scale registers zero.

Her commitment, say the contest’s organizers, is a perfect example of why these kinds of events exist.

“Students who undertake a scientific experiment or engineering project and then enter into a science fair competition have the opportunity to learn what it is like to be a working scientist or engineer,” says Courtney Butler, director of the fair. Butler is part of the College of Natural Sciences’ Education and Outreach Center, which has been the event’s home for the last 16 years.

“They have to learn to think logically, communicate orally and in writing, and use mathematics in a meaningful way.”

And meaningful it is, since these young students are already helping solve tomorrow’s problems.

Meet the winners

The first through fourth place winners from the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair will compete  in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair May 10-15 in Pittsburgh.

This year’s winners are:

1st place – Mary Hood from Sargent Jr/Sr High School in Monte Vista, CO for SMART Cane: A Technology Integrated Device to Reduce the Fall Susceptibility of the Elderly

2nd Place – Logan Collins from Fairview High School in Boulder, CO for An RK2 Mediated Bacterial Conjugation Delivery System for Artificial Gene Coding for Antimicrobial Polypeptides: A Novel Synthetic Biology Approach to Antibiotic Resistance

3rd Place – Elliot Gorokhovsky from Fairview High School in Boulder, CO for A Novel Algorithm for Model Counting

4th Place – Sam Scheeres from Fairview High School in Boulder, CO for Rigorous Constraints on Exchange for the 3-Body Problem