Pittsfield, Taconic High School students show engineering, science chops at fair

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Photo Gallery | Sixth annual Science and Innovation Fair at the Berkshire Museum

PITTSFIELD — Drew DeMartino had heard all the horror stories — some urban myths — about Silver Lake, once the city's most polluted body of water.

So the Taconic High School sophomore wanted to know if the water quality had improved two years after the lake's multimillion dollar cleanup and encapsulation of PCB-contaminated sediment.

The inquisitive teenager and a fellow student tested the water and the water of the well-recreated Onota Lake for phosphates, nitrates and bacteria.

Their findings: The results were closer than expected.

"Based on the tests, Onota Lake was cleaner," DeMartino said, "but it's great to see Silver Lake is on the rise and on its way back."

DeMartino, along with dozens of other Taconic and Pittsfield High School underclassmen, shared their results and conclusions from a variety of projects Wednesday at the sixth annual Science and Innovation Fair hosted by the Berkshire Museum. The all-day event featured 40 projects from 100 students from Taconic's Science and Engineering Academy and Pittsfield High's Quark Science Club.

About 60 judges representing local businesses and educational institutions were to evaluate the exhibits late in the afternoon, with the winners announced at separate ceremonies for each school in the evening.

A collaboration with Sabic and Pittsfield Public Schools, the science fair was free of charge to the public and a learning experience for the city's fifth-graders, who got to question the exhibitors about their work.

"One of the cool things about this is the kids are trying to solve real problems, moving away from the traditional science fair projects, like building a volcano," said Craig Langlois, the museum's director of education and public programs.

Julianna Martinez was out to solve her trouble of falling asleep at night. The Pittsfield freshman would often doze off listening to music, but that took some time.

The solution — the Speaker/Headphone Pillow.

Martinez sewed a portable speaker inside a small, square pillow, plugging it and an accompanying earbuds into her cellphone. Twice she tested her "invention," the second night quickly falling asleep.

The electronic pillow would also be great for passengers on long road trips.

"You can travel with it by leaning [the pillow] up against a car window," she said.

Another Pittsfield freshman, Liam Nester, was in search of a faster, more enjoyable way, to clear snow from a driveway. He developed the Sled Shovel, a trapezoid-shaped piece of steel sheet metal bolted to the front of a sturdy plastic sled. As you pull the Sled Shovel, the snow slides up the metal and is deposited into the sled.

Or let gravity do the work.

"If you have a hill for a driveway, you can sit in the sled going downhill to collect the snow," Nester said.

Isabella Plankey's topic centered on bias in gender behavior, specifically the differing visual perception of males and females.

The Taconic sophomore put four images before 85 students and teachers and asked what they saw. One drawing was a horse to some test subjects and a donkey to others; another animated picture struck some as a duck and others as a rabbit — along gender lines.

Plankey found the males had quick first impressions; the females took a closer look.

"That's because guys are more into just get the job done, girls are more into details," she said. "If more people understood visual perception, we wouldn't be so quick to judge."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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