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RHS students shoot for state science fair all year

Mar 26, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Students at Riverton High School begin thinking about the Wyoming State Science Fair soon after school starts each fall.

Participation in the annual competition is mandatory for all RHS freshmen, who start generating ideas for their projects within a month after summer break ends. In October, they construct research proposals in preparation for the school-level science fair, which was held in December.

"We spend a morning (doing it)," RHS teacher and science fair coordinator Samantha Miller said. "We have judges come in from the community and the college, and we have people here at the school that judge. It involves a lot of people at the end to make it happen."

The top three scorers in each category have the choice to participate in the regional West Science Fair competition at Central Wyoming College.

"We don't require they go to regionals," Miller said. "It's extra work outside of class time, and we want them to be excited about going."

She doesn't worry about RHS representation at the regional level, however: Miller said the school has had more voluntary participants every year since the science fair was initiated in 2010. This year, she brought in past competitors to talk to her freshman class and encourage the younger students to strive to make it to state.

The top three regional competitors in each category go on to the Wyoming State Science Fair at the University of Wyoming. Winners at state may receive money or scholarship awards, as well as the opportunity to attend the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May, according to UW.

"Word is spreading about how much fun it is, what a good experience it is, the connections you can make, and the money available at the state science fair," Miller said.

Sophomore Gillian Fahey enjoyed her science fair experience so much last year that she decided to do it again voluntarily. She headed to state again this year after taking third place in the environmental science category at regionals for her project examining the effects of the mountain pine beetle epidemic on spring runoff.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the bug has affected more than 4 million acres in northern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming since the first signs of outbreak in 1996. Fahey thinks the earlier peak runoff flows in the southern headwater areas she investigated are related to the epidemic.

"Before the mountain pine beetle epidemic there had to be above average snow water equivalent to have a significant peak flow," she explained. "But in the last 10 years (of) the mountain pine beetle epidemic, it took a below average snow water equivalent for snowpack to bring a peak flow."

She plans to earn an environmental science degree in the future, so she said her project this year was "really fun" for her. She said she was looking forward to speaking with judges in Laramie about her future field of expertise.

"It's a very different experience than anything that could be offered at the high school," she said. "I think everybody should try to go to it."

Miller agreed that the science fair is an important experience for high school students who are still learning about the scientific process and developing their public speaking skills.

"Even the ones that don't place, that just finish their project, sometimes that's the biggest accomplishment of their freshman year," she said. "It's scientific inquiry at its finest."

RHS sent 18 of its 22 regional science fair participants to the state competition March 3 at UW. (The list of Riverton winners was published Feb. 14 in The Ranger, and state results are below.)

Other schools

Others from Fremont County also did well at the West Central Regional Science Fair, held Jan. 27-29 at CWC.

In the junior division of animal sciences, Jordan Troxel placed first followed by Ashley Haratyk and Kailee Behunin, who tied for second place, and Abby Renner, who came in third. All of the students are from Lander Middle School.

Students from Lander were the winners in the junior division of the behavioral and social sciences category. Placing first was Fiachra Rottinghaus, followed by Ellie Jones in second. Tying for third were Lauren Fontaine and Abby Hamilton. Emma Wilkinson and Alexa Mazur received honorable mentions.

LMS students also won in the junior division of the biochemistry category. Lili Gose was in second place and Groven Ragsdale and William Lawrence tied for third place.

LMS student Autumn Hnilicka took third place honors in the junior division of cellular and molecular biology.

In the chemistry category, James Whiting of LMS placed first, followed by two Wind River Middle School students, Darby Schooner and Alison Johnson, who tied for second. LMS' Drew Wyant received an honorable mention.

WRMS student Jorden James was first in junior division of energy and transportation.

In the junior division of electrical and mechanical engineering, Tagish Reber of LMS took first place honors, followed by Abilene Philleo of WRMS and Molly Fehringer of LMS tying for second.

In materials and bioengineering, WRMS student Sean White placed first in the junior division, followed by LMS students Olivia Fowler in second and MacKenzie Jordan in third. Colton Befus of WRMS received an honorable mention.

In the junior division of environmental sciences, LMS student Atalie Thatch won first place, and WRMS students Cole Nelson and Lillian Woods tied for second. Honorable mentions went to LMS students Caleb Huelskamp, Ursula Anderson and Sawyer Hitshew as well as Owen McAdams of WRMS.

LMS student Noah Gans placed first in the junior division of mathematical sciences.

In the junior division of medicine and health sciences, LMS students swept the awards with Macy Jacobson in first, Noelle Harris in second and Emilee Robbins in third. Lilia Arellano of LMS and

Layne Sanderson of WRMS took honorable mentions.

LMS's Li Platz, Ryan Brinda and Makayla McPherson also swept the first three places of junior division of physics and astronomy. Fellow student Bridger Kimber received honorable mention.

In the junior microbiology category, LMS students Chase Bolding placed first, Ryan Brinda, second; and tying for third were Elise Haase and Becky Cecrle.

In the junior division of plant sciences, LMS student Allison Brown was first followed by WRMS's Alexis Herbert in second and LMS' Tim Nelson in third. Grace Flint earned an honorable mention.

State results

In the junior energy and transportation division, Jorden James from WRMS took first place for his project "Effects of Inertia on Wind Turbine Blades."

LMS students Kailee Behunin and Ashley Haratyk earned first place as a team in the junior animal division for their project "Keep Calm and Hug A Dog." They also won a second place special award from the UW Department of Statistics.

Fiachra Rottinghaus, a Catholic home school student from Lander, took first place in the junior behavioral division for her project, "The reliability of eyewitness testimony: effects of hyperfocus and distraction." She also earned special recognition, including the junior division research excellence award from the UW Science and Mathematics Teaching Center and Halliburton; the excellence award from the UW Department of Psychology, the American Psychological Association excellence award; the Office of Naval Research award and the American Psychological Association/UW Department of Psychology award.

LMS student Atalie Thatch tied for first place in the junior environmental science division for her project "In a Flash, Regrowth in Ash." She also got a NASA Space Grant excellence award.

LMS student Noah Gans earned first place in the junior math and science division for "Pairs in Pops: Counting Wyoming Wolves." He also was recognized with the SMTC/Halliburton math excellence award in the junior division.

Emilee Robins of LMS tied for first place in the junior medicine and health division for "Bear Hugs and BMI." The other first-place winner was also from LMS: Macy Jacobson, with her project, "Just a Spoonful of Honey."

Sean White from WRMS took first place in bioengineering and material engineering for "Safe Kindling Splitter."

A second place award went to Amanda Johntson of RHS in the senior behavioral division for her project, "What Did You Just Say." She also earned the UW Anthropology Department excellence award.

Austin Roberts of RHS got second place in the senior computer science division for "What Frames Fit?" RHS student Gillian Fahey earned second place in the senior environmental science division for "The Beginning of Disaster," and she also earned a NASA Space Grant excellence award. Rachel Graham of RHS also got second place, in the senior micro division, for "Culturing and identifying the oral flora of the ursus arctos horribilis for antibiotic sensitivity training." In the junior animal division Jordan Troxel of LMS got second place for "Dirt Diggers." Second place in junior behavioral science went to Abby Hamilton and Lauren Fontaine of LMS for "Like the back of my hands." And in the junior physics division Li Platz of LMS got second place for "Protect your eyes while the sun shines."

Third place went to Rachel Hutchison of RHS in the senior chemistry division for "In Your Phace!" Cole Nelson of WRMS got third in the junior environmental science division for "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink." Nelson also earned the first place junior division Stockholm Junior Water Prize for water-related science research.

Another third-place winner was James Whiting of LMS with "Pop Swap" in the junior chemistry division. And Chase Bolding of LMS took third in the junior micro division for his project "H2 Uh Oh."

Four local students got honorable mentions, including Molly Fehringer and McKenzie Jordan of LMS with "Solar Gains with Dusty Panes" and "Tip the Air," respectively, in the junior electrical mechanical division. Jordan also got a NASA Space Grant excellence award.

RHS student MaKenzie Valerio got an honorable mention in the senior physics division for "pH Be Gone." And LMS student Makayla McPherson earned an honorable mention in the junior physics division for "What a Drag."

The Society for In Vitro Biology awarded Sydney Thayer of RHS for "Bacteria in the mouth." And the second place junior division Stockholm Junior Water Prize for water-related science research went to Mina Shearin of LMS for "To drink or not to drink?"