PHOTO GALLERY | Region 1 Middle School Science and Engineering Fair

NORTH ADAMS — There was an impressive array of projects at the annual Region 1 Middle School Science and Engineering Fair at MCLA.

There were projects about sports safety, sonar, the amount of stress on lifting machines and many others.

Many were practical. Some, like the project created by Cameron Durocher of the BART Charter School in Adams, were more theoretical.

"I wanted to see which household substance would propel a small raft the farthest, just on surface tension," said Durocher, 11.

For the record, the raft was a small 1-inch-by-1-inch plastic square, set on a larger plastic square, on which Durocher applied various household liquids.

That experiment seems more whimsical than practical. But, as event co-director Barbara Kotelnicki pointed out, the intent of the science fair was to showcase students' problem-solving skills, not necessarily to showcase a practical application.

Kotelnicki is the director of MCLA's STEM program. The other co-chair of Saturday's event was Jennifer LaForest, a chemistry teacher at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield.

In addition, according to Thomas Tyning, a professor in the Environmental Science Department. at Berkshire Community College, the event is a way to help middle school students understand that science is a viable career path.

"Students need to know there's potential for everyone to have a career in science," said Tyning, who was the keynote speaker on Saturday.

A total of 106 projects were on display on Saturday, said Kotelnicki. They represented 11 schools from the Berkshires and the Pioneer Valley, she said. The top 40 projects will move on to the state competition in June at Worcester Technical High School.

Shelly O'Dowd, a science and mathematics teacher at Gabriel Abbot Memorial School in Florida, had three students in the competition. She was touring the floor when a reporter caught up with her.

"I'm impressed," she said. "Not only with the projects, but that the students were willing to spend their free time on Saturday at MCLA for this event. It shows commitment, which is always good."

A total of 40 judges participated in the event. Not every judge got to look at every project. Scott VanDeuzen, an engineer at General Dynamics in Pittsfield, checked out a total of eight projects.

"I looked to see how well the students understood the design process of their projects, their methodology and, of course, whether they learned something," he said.

Dirocher, for one, admitted that he learned something after he completed his project.

"Actually, my initial hypothesis was disproved," he said. "I thought the laundry detergent would propel the raft the farthest. But it was actually the toothpaste."

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.