High school athletes have section meets or playoffs to find their champions. In the Northland, science fair has the Northeastern Minnesota Regional Science Fair.

Held for the 64th time Saturday, Feb. 6, a total of 206 students in seventh through 12th grades descended on the University of Minnesota-Duluth with their tri-fold display boards in hand, most dressed in their Sunday best, all aiming to impress the judges who would decide if they advance to the state science fair or, in some cases, even national and international competitions.

Judging was done in two rounds, with more than 150 judges evaluating both middle school and high school students (separately) in well over a dozen different categories from engineering to biology to behavioral and social sciences to physics and astronomy.

This was the first time judging science fair for Manik Barman, a UMD professor in the civil engineering department. Barman listened with interest as Isaiah Swanson, a Hinckley ninth-grader, explained how his fruit clock worked.

“I’m enjoying it,” said Barman afterward. “We teach and do our own research [here at UMD], but seeing young kids come up with a lot of brilliant ideas - like the student measuring which wavelength of light would produce more energy to make more efficient solar cells, or this boy using fruit to run a clock which I’ve never seen before - they’re doing a good job.”

Looking down the aisles, some boards were consistently surrounded by clumps of judges, while other students stood alone, waiting for their turn in the spotlight.

“I like having people ask different questions about our project,” said South Ridge seventh-grader Tyler Anderson, who measured the friction of different surfaces with a homemade hovercraft with his partner Weston Stroschein.

The projects, like the students who populated the science fair, ran the gamut. In total, there were more than 160 projects to be judged, some of them the work of partners, while others were solo projects.

A few examples follow:

  • Cloquet High School students Payten Schneberger and MacKenzie Brummer looked at what effect topography, atmospheric conditions and urbanization have on ozone levels in Minnesota. The pair of ninth-graders analyzed two years worth of ozone data for the months of April through October in three locations: Duluth, Ely, and Cloquet.

  • Cloquet Middle School seventh-grader Brenna Mattson called her experiment “Happy Hermit Crab: What effect do olfactory cues (smells) have on hermit crab behavior?”

  • Hinckley-Finlayson sophomore Parker Klar hypothesized (correctly) that in golf, a driver club with a stiffer flex would be more accurate, also building on last year’s experiment testing whether or not tee height affected the yardage in golf. “These projects have made me a better golfer,” said Klar, adding that he’s been golfing varsity since eighth grade. “I needed to stay competitive with the big guys!”

  • CHS ninth-grader Janah Sevilleja examined the effect of artificial sweeteners on the normal flora of the small intestine.

  • CHS sophomores Morgan Smith and Jordin Weisz experimented with a type of small sediment worm, studying the effect of ibuprofen contaminated sediment on the worms’ survival, reproduction and avoidance of contaminated sediments in Boundary Waters sediment and Lake Superior water.

  • CMS seventh-graders Ethan Drouillard and James Schlenvogt used an engineered scintillator arrangement to count cosmic rays, which come from the sun and cause aurora borealis when they hit the earth, among other things. (Check out the video of the two seventh graders explaining their project on the Pine Journal Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pinejournal/?ref=hl)

“I’m impressed,” said judge and UMD engineering student Ashton LeBrun of the cosmic ray presenters. “They have good knowledge of their experiment and a very professional set up.”

Cloquet wasn’t the only show in town, although they certainly were the biggest group of students.

Down and over a row from the cosmic ray duo, Ordean seventh-grader Lucas Harrison displayed the robotic prosthetic finger he made that he hopes might be the first step toward replacing more “inexpensive” but low functionality prosthetics with something cheaper and better for people who are economically disadvantaged.

“Today’s prosthetics cost $10,000 or more,” he explained to judge Carissa Kloncz, president of UMD’s Society of Women Engineers. “But nine of 10 diabetic amputees are poor.”

Harrison learned most of what he now knows about robotics from books and watching YouTube, he said, adding that he plans to keep working on the project and maybe go into medicine when he’s older.

Kloncz - a former science fair participant - loved the project and advised Harrison to stay in science fair.

“There’s a lot of great opportunities,” she told him.

Some living examples of those opportunities were also at the science fair, working as volunteers or judges, former Cloquet (and at least one East graduate) students who participated in science fair. Most of them are in college now, many of them with significant scholarships thanks in part to their science fair credentials.

Amy Jackson is mom to two of those CHS graduates and science fair veterans; she’s been helping since her daughter Courtney was in seventh grade. (Courtney graduates from Penn State this spring and is headed to North Dakota University for her master’s degree in geology, Preston is going to the University of Minnesota-Morris.)

“Dr. [Cynthia] Welsh grows some pretty faithful kids,” said Jackson, about Cloquet’s science fair mentor who also organizes the regional competition. “They keep coming back to help.”

So do their parents.

East grad Tim Renier’s mom, who helped with food service, joined the conversation, talking about all the awards and places her son got to visit as a result of his winning experiments on hand hygiene during high school. In some cases, she also traveled to the different competitions.

“I didn’t know I liked science until my kids got into it,” Jackson added as she wrote the names of award winners on certificate after certificate.

When the results were finally tallied, the award ceremony began with a Native American drum song and the awards for the American Indian Science and Engineering Fair, held in conjunction with the regional fair.

“To all the young people trying to make this world a better place for all of us, thank you,” said one of the first presenters.

Then came two hours of awards, starting with dozens of special awards given for different reasons, including a $1,000 scholarship for “appreciation of nature” given to seventh-grader Greg Conant. Next the first-, second- and third-place ribbons were awarded, with first-place winners advancing to the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair, all 73 of them, to do it all again almost two months down the road.

Following is a list of the top award winners, who will advance to national or international competitions in the coming months. Keep watching the Pine Journal for a more comprehensive list of the other winners and the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair in April.

I-SWEEP (International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering & Environment Project)

  • Levi Peterson and Jacob Schmidt

  • Christine Neumann and Crystal Moynan

April 26 to May 1 in Houston, Texas. Students receive $1,500 scholarship for hotel, breakfasts, lunches and dinners

ISEF (Intel International Science and Engineering Fair)

  • Christine Neuman and Crystal Moynan

  • Morgan Smith and Jordan Weisz

  • Emma Wells

  • Janah Sevilleja, alternate

  • Levi Peterson and Jacob Schmidt, alternate

May 8-13 in Phoenix, Ariz. Students receive a trip with paid travel, lodging and registration.

Genius Olympiad

  • Francis Slater

June 12-17 in New York. Students receive lodging and food.

Stockholm Junior Water Prize

  • Morgan Smith and Jordan Weisz

  • Christine Neuman and Crystal Moynan

  • Emma Wells

  • Gabrielle Napper and Emma Waugh

June 18-19 in Herndon, Va.

AISES (American indian Science and Engineering Society)

  • Issy Roy and Marcy Ferriere

  • Cody Tibbets and Sam Brenner

  • Ahnna Anderson

  • Katrina Ziells and Joseph Bauer

  • Noel Redding and Gabby Laubach

  • Taylor Hansen

  • Natalie Putnam

  • Jacob Belden

  • Janah Sevilleja

  • Trentin Russel

  • Greg Conant