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County Science Fair Shows Off Inquisitive Young Minds

Bianca Roman with her sound reduction experiment.

by Gene Marrano

The best and brightest from Roanoke County middle and high schools – when it comes to science that is – showed off their projects during the juried county science fair at William Byrd Middle School on Saturday. The winning entries at both school levels will go on to compete in the Western Regional Science Fair at Virginia Western Community College on March 17. From there the winners could go to an international competition.

The science projects on display last weekend ranged from the somewhat-simple (which softball bat performs best? Which brand of waterproof mascara is superior?) to the more esoteric (phtyoremediation of copper in water; optimization of linear magnetic accelerator efficiency). Parents, teachers, fellow judges and students milled around the gym floor at Byrd Middle and those who constructed their science projects talked about where they hatched these ideas.

Like Bianca Roman (Cave Spring Middle School), whose project was entitled “Its Not Easy Being Green.” It strove to answer the question: can natural materials be just as effective as synthetic products when it comes to sound reduction? “I found out that [they are] and a lot cheaper,” said Roman, who would like to be an architect one day, “and better for the environment.”

Water was found to be a good soundproof material, and it doesn’t harm the environment. “People should take a look at this,” Roman advised. The 7th grader was in her first science fair. “I was interested in how I could become more green,” said Roman, who spent several weeks planning her science project and constructing the display poster. Roman used a decibel meter on her iPod to measure sound levels when constructing noise tests. “It was really fun, I got to find out new stuff.”

Roanoke County Schools science department coordinator Julian Barnes said the number of projects entered in this year’s science fair was down a bit, but the content was still very impressive. “The quality is certainly there.”  As for the subjects chosen – including projects like the survival of a bovine fecal marker in river water and maximizing the velocity of a gauss rifle – Barnes attributed it to “great thinking…young people’s minds.”

Barnes noted that there were a number of “green” related projects, something that students came up with on their own, although there is a county schools green initiative. Barnes said Roanoke County science project winners have done well at the regional competition level in the past.

It’s tougher sometimes these days to get middle and high school students excited by science, in part because many have them are involved in other activities (several missed the science fair for just that reason). “You can’t be everywhere at once.”

While schools stress project-based learning in the classroom many elect not to take it to the next level and put together something for the science fair. Barnes, notable for his long handlebar mustache, is still trying to figure that one out. Roanoke County is involved in a statewide advanced studies project, and Barnes is often told that the county science teachers are “heavy hitters.” As for his own interest in science as a young student, Barnes said the answer was simple: “I just always wanted to know how stuff worked – and why.”

Roanoke County Schools Superintendent Dr. Lorraine Lange took a tour of the exhibits as well. Days before Lange returned to a hero’s welcome (including a band) at the airport from Houston, where she had been a finalist for national Superintendent of the Year, after earning the state honor. Lange didn’t win but said she was honored to represent both the county and the state. “I was very humbled by the whole [national] conference.”

As for the science fair, Lange said that when people talk “about not having the education they did years ago, they haven’t been to a science fair [or] been in the schools to see what some of these students are doing. It’s a much better education then when I went to school.”

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