April 2023

Students Take Science Seriously

Kids in Santa Cruz County are busy with all kinds of activities, and some in our next generation are taking scientific research seriously as evidenced at the Santa Cruz County Science Fair held March 18 at the County Office of Education.

One-hundred-forty students from schools across the County representing 123 science projects competed in this annual event. I had the pleasure of interviewing organizers, judges, and participants.

Emma Smith, a sixth grader from Mountain School, is concerned about climate change and flooding. Her project explored whether a living shoreline might mitigate damage from ocean flooding better than the standard impervious sea walls which are built for this purpose. “I knew that in China they have what are called “sponge cities” that have living coastlines which have been shown to reduce flooding damage.”

Kindergartener, Aroh Khadillan, from Mar Vista School loves flying paper airplanes and tested various designs to find out which one made the plane fly further. He was animated describing the flight patterns of his creations.

Violeta Lozano and Isis Velmer, fourth graders from Pacific Elementary School discovered that salinity of water affects the intensity of bioluminescence.

Pacific Collegiate High School freshman, Hazel Campbell, tested the degradability of bioplastics in a home compost system. “We are in a plastic waste crisis and bioplastics could be a life-saving solution to that,” she said.

Heather Wygant, Science Coordinator for the County Office of Education, said rain posed a big challenge as the Science Fair had to be postponed by a week and relocated from the original County Fairgrounds site because the Fairgrounds became an evacuation shelter for flood victims in Pajaro. “We rely on volunteers from the community who serve as judges and sponsor prizes as well as the wonderful teachers who encourage students with their projects,” she said. “This year we were able to pivot and provide a worthwhile experience for budding scientists with help from seventy-five volunteer judges.”

Volunteer judge, Cres Fraley, is in his tenth year evaluating projects some of which will go on to the state competition or the International Science Fair to be held in Dallas, Texas in May. Fraley is a former board member of both Bonny Doon Elementary School District and Pacific Collegiate School. “My abiding interest in science was inspired by my father who was a science journalist. My kids did science fair projects, and I love the enthusiasm, curiosity, and energy these young students bring to their research,” he said.

Lively explanations and discussions could be heard throughout the room as judges listened attentively to young students sharing their accomplishments.

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