The Orange County Science and Engineering Fair (OCSEF) is a nonprofit educational organization that has promoted science and engineering in Orange County since 1955. The educators, scientists, and engineers who volunteer their services are committed to educating, guiding, and motivating students to engage in project-based learning in all fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to be college and career ready in the 21st century.
Four high school students were selected to represent Orange County at the 2016 Intel International Science & Engineering Fair.
Erin Jeon was a 6th grader at Westpark Elementary School in the 2015-2016 school year She also was a Junior Division winner of the 2015-2016 Orange County Science and Engineering Fair. Her project was called “Ocean Blues” and investigated the effect trash and runoff from human development had on the levels of E. coli bacteria in the ocean.
Erin first became interested in doing this project when she visited different beaches and noticed that some beaches were more crowded than others. She combined this with her love of biology to see which beach would contain the least bacteria and by extension “which beaches were safe for beachgoers.” She created this project to help “government or city officials use this information to improve the environment.”
Erin faced many obstacles during her work at the beach. During her work, one experimental trial resulted in an uncertain result, because her testing method only accurately worked up to a certain number of bacteria, and the test result exceeded that number. Therefore, she was unable to accurately determine the amount of E. coli present. After much debate, she ended up counting the result, as it would not have been fair to throw it out and test again when all other beaches had also been tested only twice. From this experience, she learned that it was important to be careful when conducting the experiment to minimize variation, and transformed an obstacle into a learning experience.
Erin would like to expand on her project in the future by increasing the amount of beaches she tests, and increasing the variation in the types of beaches she tests. She would like to test waters from “different oceans, countries, and continents.” She believes the difference in bacteria levels in bays, free flowing water, and beaches will be significant. She also advises those new to science fair to “find a topic you really care about because the science fair is a long process. It takes a couple of months to complete the project. A topic that interests you will keep you going and motivated, and it would be hard to do all the work associated with science fair if it’s all on a topic that doesn’t seem exciting and fun to you.”
Outside of science fair, Erin enjoys dancing and reading. She has danced since the age of two and enjoys many different styles of dance. She also nurtures a love for books and enjoys figuring out how to display them on her bookshelves.
Cathy Ellsworth was a 6th grader from La Madera Elementary School in the 2015-16 school year and won an honorable mention in the category Environmental Science/Environmental Engineering. Her project, “Copper Uptake in Moss,” examined how moss absorbed copper in aqueous solutions with different concentrations of copper.
Cathy’s fascination with moss began when she was five and was shown a patch of moss by her grandmother in her front yard. She started science fair in second grade, and each year since then, her project has involved the moss from the patch her grandmother had showed her. Her passion for studying moss continues unabated, and she plans to continue investigating the questions that cropped up from her past moss studies for future projects.
In her project, Cathy used common materials to conduct her research. To measure copper concentration, she used an aquarium test kit that included a color comparison card. The moss came from her garden, and commercially available polyethylene served as her control. Cathy had minor trouble with her project when her samples fell over and lost some water, but she simply said, “When I ran into problems, I just shrugged and continued, because there are always problems.” After 20 days of allowing the moss to soak in copper solutions of various concentration, Cathy found that her hypothesis was correct, and that the moss absorbed copper fastest in the most concentrated solution.
Cathy found OCSEF to be a highly rewarding experience. For those who also want to do a science fair project, Cathy’s advice is to “start early”, but above all “relax and have fun.” For Cathy, “science fairs are some of [her] favorite times of the year.” Her personal role model is the famous primatologist Jane Goodall because of her passion for nature, and she encourages students to find both a role model and parental support for their endeavours. As for her own project, Cathy hopes to expand on the concept of mosses’ absorption of various substances, especially in relation to how they could potentially absorb pollutants and thus act as pollution samplers.
Allison Yue was a 6th grader at Bonita Canyon Elementary School and received Honorable Mentions in the Botany Junior Division of the 2015-2016 OC Science and Engineering Fair. Her project was called “Hard Water? Soft Water?” and investigated the effect of hard and soft water on lima bean plant growth and maturation.
Allison first became interested in creating this project when her mom told her about various salespeople each advising the use of a different type of water for the optimal growth of orchid flowers. After conducting research, she found out the differences between soft and hard water, and the usage cases for each. Combining her desire to help her mom and her interest in science, she decided to create this experiment to truly see whether hard or soft water was better for watering plants with.
Allison faced many obstacles in conducting her project. At first, her “plants just didn’t want to grow.” But she soon realized that due to the winter weather, the plants would not grow outside because it was too cold. She solved this issue by moving the plants inside, but keeping them near the window. This allowed the plants to stay warm but still have access to sunlight for photosynthesis. Later on, she noticed that she was watering the plants too frequently, as a lot of the water she had given the plants was sitting in pools on the surface of the soil. She solved this issue by first watering only once a week instead of twice a week, and also pushing holes into the bottom of the plastic cups the plants were growing in, allowing excess water to escape.
Allison enjoys science because she “gets to explore new things.” Science fair was an enlightening experience for her, as she discovered that science was not a mundane subject to be learned out of a textbook but something that is exciting and hands-on. She also has a piece of advice for people new to science fair: “Don’t leave things to the last minute!” In her free time, Allison also enjoys reading, writing poems, and playing the violin. In the future, she wishes to expand her project by testing sugar water against hard water.
Ankita Ahluwalia, an 8th-grader at Venado Middle School, competed in the Junior Division of the OC Science and Engineering Fair of 2015 - 2016. She won third place with her chemistry project entitled, “Effect of Temperature on the Solubility of Table Sugar and Table Salt.”
Ankita decided to participate in the science fair because she has always loved science. She loves to explore new things and gain first-hand experience in investigating scientific topics.
Ankita was inspired to do her project one day when she was helping her mother make some tea. She observed that she was able to dissolve sugar in a cup of hot tea much more quickly than in a cup of cold tea. This observation interested her so much that she wanted to investigate this topic in more depth. This, in addition to recently learning about solubility in science class, gave Ankita her project idea to assess the effect of temperature on the solubility of commonly-used condiments.
For her project, Ankita investigated the effect of the water temperature on the solubility of the table sugar and salt that was dissolved in the water. Her hypothesis, later proven to be correct, was that the solubility of table sugar and salt will increase with increasing temperature.
Ankita faced many obstacles during her science fair journey, but the biggest obstacle she faced was that it took an extremely long amount of time to dissolve table sugar and salt in ice-cold water. In order to make her procedure more efficient, she adjusted her experimental design by designating a constant time of five minutes for dissolving each increment of sugar or salt.
“The science fair was an incredible opportunity to learn more about what I love,” Ankita says. “My love and compassion for science has brought me this far; I believe I will continue to learn and expand my knowledge of science for years to come.”
In the 2015-2016 school year, Aamina Thasneem Khaleel was a seventh grader at Orange Crescent School. While many children like eating colorful candies, Aamina took her interest a step further by researching the detrimental effects of artificial food colorings, specifically in M&Ms and Nerds. Her project, titled “Investigating Harmful Artificial Food Coloring in Candies Using Agarose Gel Electrophoresis,” garnered attention from judges, who gave her first place in the junior division of physical product science.
Like many other young kids, Aamina was first inspired to pursue this science research project by her love and interest in candy. The attractive-looking candies made her wonder “why the colors [were] really bright, and what they [were] made of.” Aamina also wanted to explore the negative effects of the excess amounts of food coloring in the candies. To do this, Aamina utilized agarose gel electrophoresis, “a method used by scientists to find DNA, RNA, proteins, enzymes, and artificial food colorings.” Aamina heated eight different dyes in an electrophoresis chamber, with the artificial colors moving from the negative to the positive end. Artificial colors closer to the negative end after being heated were deemed to have excessive amounts of artificial coloring, and therefore had more harmful effects.
Aamina started out by testing different candies, but she dreams of using her newly-gained knowledge of Agarose Gel Electrophoresis to test different kinds of coffees and teas for their amounts of caffeine. Not limited to food sciences, Agarose Gel Electrophoresis is also an important method in the sciences biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, and clinical chemistry; Aamina hopes to specifically use her skill to test animal DNA in the future.
Aamina was able to conduct a successful experiment, but not without obstacles. She struggled “to find out the different amounts of agarose, buffer, and water,” but overcame it due to her passion for science and her curiosity. In fact, when asked, Aamina has said that her advice to science research project hopefuls is to “ask lots of questions, be curious, never give up, and always love science.”