Cloquet student takes home gold at state science fair
Parker Sickmann, 13, was among several Cloquet Public Schools students who earned an award at the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair in March.
It all started when 13-year-old Parker Sickmann realized he needed to find a way to defend his holiday treats from local thieves.
As the youngest of three children, Sickmann noticed a problem when treats that were meant for Dec. 25 kept going missing from the family garage well before Christmas Day. He decided better security was needed for situations like this, leading to the creation of his latest computer science project: Infrared Alert.
Behind the science
Infrared Alert uses an infrared sensor to detect motion and sends an instant alert to a computer when activity is sensed. Not only could the Infrared Alert be used for security purposes, but Sickmann explained that it could also be used for purposes such as trail watching.
Sickmann has been interested in computers since he was in fourth grade. His mother, Leah Sickmann, explained that he has always been a helpful resource when it comes to technology.
“If you need help with technology, he’s the guy you go to at our house,” she said.
Sickmann, along with the help of William Bauer, information technology specialist at the school, began researching the project in December, with testing taking place throughout February.
Sickmann said he considers Bauer to be his mentor.
"Parker is kind of unique," Bauer said. "He's very inquisitive and driven."
Bauer explained that Sickmann's project was able to incorporate aspects of engineering, as well as science. He said they practiced data collection and the scientific method during testing, and that they even verified how accurate the manufacturer's description of the infrared sensor was.
The resources for Infrared Alert came mainly from equipment lent to Sickmann by Bauer, as well as about $10 worth of supplies purchased off of the internet.
Bauer also gifted Sickmann with his first computer science kit over the winter, and the two spent many afternoons working on the project after school.
“We would work on it a bit and then we would just do random fun stuff around the school and then we’d work on it some more,” Sickmann said. “It really kept me going.”
A big win
Sickmann was also motivated by the fact that his project was set to be entered in the 2021 Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair. He had never entered a competition of this kind before, and was excited by the idea.
“I’m really into computers and technology,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why not do it?’”
When Sickmann’s project won first in the Broadcom Coding with Commitment Award, he was thrilled.
According to the science fair's website, the newly founded award aims to recognize “a student whose project combines science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) knowledge with computation coding to address a community project.”
A total of 328 students across seven Minnesota regions competed in the fair, according to program director Sara Gomez.
Leah Sickmann said that as soon as the family heard the award description, they knew Sickmann’s project was going to win.
The 2021 fair was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Sickmann tuned in from his grandparent’s house while the rest of his family watched from locations throughout the country.
“We were all messaging back and forth like ‘Woo, hoo,’” Leah Sickmann said.
The award came with a $250 gift certificate and Raspberry Pi Foundation's Official RP 400 Personal Computer Kit.
According to a press release, a judge scoring Sickmann’s project described it as a “really interesting project with a clear application to real life.”
Sickmann is already planning his next big project, with hopes toward improving the life of the chickens living at his home. He explained that he wants to set up a camera to watch them, as well as some sort of solar-powered technology in the chicken coop.