Draper — From a presentation on gene therapy for ovarian cancer to determining how types of blueberries affect the color of pancakes, entries by middle school and high school students at the 23rd annual Diocesan Science Fair impressed many of the judges.
“They were fantastic, really professional grade,” said judge Bruce McWilliams, a research engineer, of the higher division entries he saw. “It was really impressive – the level of understanding of their projects and the research they have done.”
The science fair, held Feb. 9 at Juan Diego Catholic High School, drew 231 entries. Entrants ranged from fifth graders (who entered in the sixth-grade division) to high school seniors. All of the Utah Catholic middle schools and high schools except for St. Olaf’s sent students to the diocesan science fair. Five other private schools – McGillis, Challenger, Waterford, Rowland Hall and Reid – participated in the fair, which is a qualifier for the statewide University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair.
Categories were Biology and Biochemistry, Plant Science, Engineering, Earth and Environmental Science, Behavioral and Social Science, Chemical and Physical Science, Physics, Astronomy and Math, Chemistry and Medicine and Health Science.
High school projects included such subjects as methamphines’ effect on stratial arc expression, the effects of aging in long-distance running on high school and college athletes, the harm of pharmaceutical interference in the treatment of HIV and a mathematical model of early detection of dengue fever.
While the older students concentrated on professional presentation of their subjects, some of the students in the younger grades had more fun with theirs. Entries included such names as Fabulous Friction, 5-Second Rule: Truth or Fiction, Yeast Farts and Mood Ring Bling.
For her experiment, Isabella Pickers, a seventh-grade student at Blessed Sacrament, chose to study how likely people are to cheat. She videotaped several groups of students at her school in a controlled setting and determined 54.5 percent would cheat if they thought they wouldn’t be caught. She also discovered that the greater the prize being offered, the more likely her subjects were to cheat.
“Cheating is a big part of our society; even adults do it,” she said. “Society tells us winning is the best thing to do. That’s when you get all the praise and glory.”
Marek Mrugala, a Knight from the St. Theresa of Calcutta Council, judged some of the lower division entries.
“It’s great to see kids of this early age show interest in doing science experiments,” he said. “I admire their curiosity; this experience is really educational and useful to them.”
Each project at the science fair was judged by four different judges, who also questioned the students about their experiments.
“The benefit of the interview [with the judges] is that they get to explain how they apply the concepts practically,” Mrugala said. “Science encircles a lot of disciplines and range of interests. It’s encouraging to me to see the students’ enthusiasm and how they try to involve the reality we live in.”
The overall winner of the diocesan science fair, Carter Jensen of Challenger School, was named Young Scientist of the Year; he accumulated the most points and received a plaque and $100.
“I’m not surprised Carter won; he is an incredible student,” Challenger Executive Region Director David Walton said.
Diego Mejia of St. John the Baptist Middle School took the Astronomy Recognition award and received a telescope.
Nineteen high school students, 46 seventh- and eighth-grade students and 35 sixth-grade students qualified to go on to the University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair, which will be held March 8-9 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Last year four Juan Diego Catholic High School student projects placed in their respective categories there.
The annual diocesan fair is sponsored by the Utah State Council Knights of Columbus. The majority of the state’s 37 councils sponsor awards and cash prizes totaling just under $2,000, along with providing T-shirts for participants and judges and support staff for the event. Several of the special recognition awards are named in memory of past Knights.
“This is part of our charitable effort and outreach to youth,” Knights of Columbus State Deputy Greg Keeler said.
The science fair was begun in 1996 by former state deputy Ed Shulfer, Keeler said.
“Ed Shulfer had a dream to promote math and science in the Catholic schools in Utah,” he said. “He couldn’t figure out why kids in the diocese couldn’t have a fair, so he started one.”
That first year there were just 30 to 40 entries, Keeler said. Since that time, the science fair has grown exponentially. Keeler said this year in particular stood out in terms of the diversity of the subjects that were chosen.
“The intelligence of the kids and the experiments were very high this year,” he said.