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Science fair goes virtual again for 2021

Every spring for more than 50 years, the Mercer Science and Engineering Fair has exhibited students’ projects in a large hall where the public could visit and the judges would evaluate them for a range of awards. In recent decades, Rider University has hosted the event.

This year, as in 2020, however, was a virtual event, with the students, their exhibits and the judging again successfully conducted online via Zoom.

Bill Wong, president of the Mercer Science and Engineering Club, which sponsors the fair, is a computer science expert. With the help of club members, the volunteer judges, and the exhibitors themselves, the fair ran smoothly as a virtual online event.

This year, more than 50 students from the middle and high schools in the greater Mercer County area submitted projects. Each exhibitor assembled, scanned and posted all their artifacts, documents, descriptions, and results on the club website where the judges could examine them. Some engineering exhibitors even presented video demonstrations of their creations in action.

The Senior Division, which includes high school grades 9-12, requires interviews with the judges. These, too, occurred via Zoom. With both audio and video capabilities, the students explained their projects and answered judges’ questions. The judges then caucused on-line to discuss their findings and select winners and awards.

The grand prize winner was Charlotte Michaluk, a freshman at Hopewell Valley Central High, with her project, Innovative Climate Change Emissions Reduction: The Cargo Ship Flettner Rotor Centrifugal Vortex Exhaust Scrubber. This novel design could a double benefit to the environment, removing diesel soot emissions and harnessing wind power to improve energy efficiency, and thus reduce both petroleum consumption and carbon dioxide.

First runner-up was Aravind Krishnan, a senior from Hillsborough High School, with his project, A Novel Assay to Quantitatively Detect Bacterial Endotoxin by Harnessing PAMP Triggered Immunity of RK1 LUC Arabidopsis thaliana. Currently the agent used to detect bacteria in living organisms, on surfaces, and in water is derived from the blood of horseshoe crabs whose numbers are declining. This project experimented with a biosensor genetically engineered into a common flowering weed plant. Krishnan hopes this approach could reduce the need to destroy horseshoe crabs.

The second runner up was Sota Mark Ogata, a junior from Princeton High School, with his project, Zircon – an affordable, powerful, and customizable educational soccer robot kit for beginners. If marketed, it would provide both beginners and even more advanced experimenters a functional robot as a starting point, which they could program and modify to compete in the RobotCup Tournament or other contests. They would also learn about real life robotics and IoT systems.

The grand prize winner and first runner normally receive an all-expense-paid trip to the International Science and Engineering Fair in May. This year, however, the International Fair will also be virtual.

A complete list of awards is available at https://mercersec.org/sites/default/files/2021-03/2021%20MSEF%20Awards%20List.pdf

There will be an online open house at 1 p.m. March 27, where visitors may listen to students’ presentations and ask them questions. The link is available at
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZwpfuChqj8jHtHpRIu6cSBy0eA6NeLnxsEq

* This information was submitted by Jonathan Allen, Ph.D., secretary, Mercer Science & Engineering Club in the Titusville section of Hopewell Township. 

 

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