Social Conscience on Display at Herndon Science Fair

by Matthew Kivel
posted May 28, 2014

Aerospace’s 37th annual Robert H. Herndon Memorial Science Competition was held on May 22 in El Segundo, following the annual East Coast installment of the competition, which took place on April 3 in Chantilly.

In the early morning hours, local middle- and high-school students arrived on the El Segundo campus and set up booths in the A5-A8 courtyard. The energetic group of young scientists, dressed in button-down shirts, ties, and dresses, huddled around their respective projects, adjusting and perfecting the experiments while simultaneously rehearsing their presentations. Each of the booths offered a unique exhibit — some grander and more ambitious than others, but as a whole, the projects explored a wonderfully diverse array of scientific and technological concepts.

This year’s crop of students exhibited an acute social consciousness in developing experiments and technologies that tackled societal and environmental issues. Sustainability and resource conservation were themes that consistently recurred throughout the science fair. Water, both as an energy source and as a necessity for human life, inspired a number of projects including an affordable desalination system, an air-to-water converter, and an underwater turbine. Another set of students used water as a proving ground for its custom-built, underwater remotely operated vehicle.

A team from Bert Lynn Middle School tackled the problem of obesity. From left to right,  Kelly Lee; Julian Rachman; Blake Bartosh, Aerospace adviser; and Kelly Lam. (Photo: Elisa Haber/The Aerospace Corporation)

A team from Bert Lynn Middle School tackled the problem of obesity. From left to right, Kelly Lee; Julian Rachman; Blake Bartosh, Aerospace adviser; and Kelly Lam. (Photo: Elisa Haber/The Aerospace Corporation)

A team from Bert Lynn Middle School in Torrance ambitiously set its sights on America’s obesity epidemic and the nation’s accelerating addiction to smartphones. These students proposed that high obesity levels are, at least partially, tied to the extensive use of electronics and communication devices for recreational and practical purposes. Ingeniously, the team developed a bike-powered charging device for the iPhone, allowing users to charge their coveted phones while undertaking a challenging workout in the process.

All of the students’ work was evaluated by a panel of judges, which observed the various projects and asked pointed questions of the young scientists. The students often responded enthusiastically and thoughtfully, eager to engage in lengthy discussions of the science behind the experiments. During the science fair, a group of students that had submitted essays instead of physical projects to the competition were taken on a guided tour of the Aerospace facilities.

Kayla Salmon of Gunston Middle School in Arlington, Va., explains her experiment to judge Capt. Vera Northcutt. (Photo: Amanda McCarty/The Aerospace Corporation)

Kayla Salmon of Gunston Middle School in Arlington, Va., explains her experiment to judge Capt. Vera Northcutt. (Photo: Amanda McCarty/The Aerospace Corporation)

After the science fair concluded, the students reassembled at an awards ceremony in Titan IVA and IVB where they were served lunch and watched a documentary on last year’s Herndon Memorial Science Competition. Mary Herndon, wife of the late Robert Herndon, was in attendance and received an award and keepsake to celebrate her 37 years of service to Aerospace and, more specifically, the science competition. A ten-minute documentary celebrating her life and work was screened, and upon its conclusion, the audience gave her a warm ovation.

Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, delivered the event’s keynote address, encouraging the students to consider their STEM pursuits as viable career options. She closed with a short and engaging video about the work taking place at SpaceX and the company’s goals for the future, which includes landing humans on Mars.

Finally, awards and monetary prizes were presented to the top two essays and the top three teams for both middle and high school. Upon winning first place in the high school team competition, students from Morningside high school bounded onto the stage, celebrating joyfully, unable to contain their emotion. The team embraced and many of the individual students shed tears of joy, crying and laughing as they posed for photos with their newly won medals and checks. It was a touching and beautiful finale to a remarkable day of learning and achievement.

East Coast Competition Winners

High School Experiment
1) Kheelum Brown, McKinley Tech, “Antimicrobial Study”
2) John Toner, Wakefield High, “Study in Insulation”
3) Bridget Hart, Yorktown High, “Pykrete”

Middle School Experiment
1) Matthew Kolodner, R. Clemente MS, “Laser Com”
2) Kelton Williams, Jefferson MS, “Quantum Levitation”
3) Andrew Komo / Noah Kim, Takoma Park MS, “Cryptography”

High School Essay
1) Abhinav Seetharaman, Briar Woods HS, “Investigating the Effect of Heat Transfer on Light Therapy”
2) Kelly Hayes, Briar Woods HS, “Cloning of Human Embryos Leads to Advances in Stem Cell Research”

Middle School Essay
1) Kaela Peters, W. Irving MS, “Adhesives as Alternatives to Sealing Heart Defects”
2) Gabriella Lozano, W. Irving MS, “The Need for Waste-to-Energy on Ships”

West Coast Competition Winners

High School Experiment
1) Morningside High School
2) Clark Magnet High School
3) Manual Arts High School

Middle School Experiment
1) Manhattan Beach Middle School
2) Dana Middle School
3) Robert E Peary Math/Science Middle School

High School Essay
1) Kobi Kelley, Verbum Dei HS, “Powerful Stem Cells”
2) Jorge Medina, Dominguez HS, “The End of Moore’s Law and the Quantum Computer: Thinking Small to Solve a Big Issue”

Middle School Essay
1) Omar Rashad, Bert Lynn Middle School, “The Sensitivity of Pain”
2) Melita Jackson, Dana Middle School, “Self-Driving Cars, What it Takes to Make Them a Reality”