Western Mass Region 1 High School Science & Engineering Fair shows pursuit of research and analysis
Find the 2017 list of winners here.
Editor's note: This article was updated on March 13, 2017, to include that MCLA STEM Program Manager Barbara Kotelnicki served as co-director of the event and to add Miss Hall's School to the list of participating schools
NORTH ADAMS - Although nationally the scientific method seems to have taken a back seat to high stakes politics, the gymnasium at MCLA was brimming with science and its illuminating results Friday.
It was the 13th annual Western Massachusetts Region 1 High School Science & Engineering Fair where 71 high school students — representing schools in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties —presented the results of 65 scientific explorations.
According to Jennifer LaForest, co-director of the science fair and chemistry teacher at Miss Hall's School, each project has to put forth a hypothesis, document the process of testing the hypothesis and of reaching the conclusion resulting from the experimentation.
Here's the thing: If the hypothesis is disproven by the research, it could still be a good science project, if the research and experimentation is well documented and is an objective, meticulous use of scientific method.
"If you disprove your hypothesis and explain why it was disproven really well, that is the most important part," LaForest said.
Three Westfield High School students, Skylar Murphy, Abigail Spice and Trisha Haluch, disproved their hypothesis, and learned something in doing so.
Their project was called "The effects of ascorbic acid on Zooxanthellae Algae." They were trying to determine if vitamin C could have a regenerative effect on the algae that permits coral to photosynthesize and thereby cut down on coral bleaching, a planetary affliction killing off major coral formations.
Turns out it doesn't.
"But we learned a lot about the genetic make-up of algae and of the dangers a warming ocean pose to coral formations," Skylar said.
The students' projects were judged on several criteria, including scientific approach, innovation and creativity, and presentation.
The top 40 projects at the science fair will go on to compete in the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair at MIT in early May, and the top two projects will compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles in mid-May.
The whole idea, LaForest noted, is to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Until recently, the number of graduates seeking a career in those areas had been decreasing, and with it the U.S. standing in the planetary pursuit of scientific advancement.
"There is so much about the world that connects to STEM," LaForest said. "And internationally it is getting more competitive, so the more people we can get interested, the better off we'll be in working to improve the human condition."
LaForest co-directed the science fair with Barbara Kotelnicki, manager of MCLA's STEM Program.
Participating schools include the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School, Miss Hall's School, Taconic High School, Pittsfield High School, Westfield High School, Deerfield Academy and Northfield Mount Hermon.
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