By Jennifer Macke and Bob Dryja
Each year, PEEC provides small cash awards to students at the Los Alamos County science fair. In judging, we look for projects that incorporate PEEC-related topics: inspiration from nature, use of natural materials, tie-in with the local outdoors, and betterment of the environment. There is usually a good selection of projects on these topics, and we choose a few of the best for prizes.
We enjoy talking to students, who are often enthusiastic and have new perspectives on the natural world as a result of their research. Students in turn appreciate talking with adults who take an interest in their work. Judging is a positive experience for both the adult and student, and we encourage other local citizens to volunteer as judges.
This year the county science fair was held on February 4th, and here are this year’s PEEC award winners:
“America’s Farming Future: The Impact of Climate Change on Crop Yields” by Lillian Petersen, 9th grade, Los Alamos High School.
This investigation asked the question: how will various future climate scenarios affect future crop yields of corn, soybeans, and rice? An extensive computational model was developed to make projections to the year 2100 under differing sets of assumptions, including both high and low estimates of future greenhouse gasses, and high and low estimates of future agricultural technological improvements. Agricultural and climate data were obtained from several publicly-available sources, including the USDA and NOAA websites. The conclusions show that corn is most susceptible to climate change, and rice the least susceptible. Crop yields will decrease, particularly for corn under high estimates of greenhouse gasses.
“Lichens Revisited: The Chlorophyll Connection” by Amaya Coblentz, 9th grade, Los Alamos High School.
This project asked the question: how sensitive is the photosynthesis activity of lichen to its water content during desiccation? The answer is that, once the desiccation process reaches a certain point, photosynthesis crashes abruptly. We liked this project for its clear, high-quality investigation using natural materials.
“Water is the New Oil” by Lenny Svyatsky, 6th grade, Barranca Elementary.
This project took its inspiration from the realization that fresh water is becoming scarce in some parts of the world. The student wanted to explore the variables involved in the desalination process, comparing the desalination of water with varying levels of salt. We were particularly impressed with the student’s command of the issues surrounding groundwater depletion, and the physiology of salts in the body. In the future, the student would like to expand his project by examining desalination of naturally-occurring water that we have in New Mexico, and we’d enjoy seeing a project like that in the future.
“Ecosystem in a Bottle” by Erin Gattis, 6th grade, Chamisa Elementary.
This project involved growing small plants and animals in mini-ecosystems built from 2-liter soda bottles. The scientific method was used to compare the results from several different types of soil. The student impressed us with her enthusiasm for ecosystems.
“Frozen Rocks” by Bethany Rieke, 5th grade, Pinon Elementary.
We liked this project for its use of several types of local rocks. The scientific method was used in taking measurements over time following cycles of freeze-thaw. The conclusions were relevant to geological weathering.
“Growin’ Like a Plant” by Dylan Marciano, 5th grade, Pinon Elementary.
We liked this project for having a measurable outcome and its use of several different seeds for each set of conditions. The student compared the effects of several types of liquids on plant growth. The conclusions are relevant to gardening and to understanding plants.
“How Does Dirt Affect Plant Growth?” by Tanner Noakes, 5th grade, Chamisa Elementary.
We liked this project for having a measurable outcome and its use of several different seeds for each set of conditions. The student compared the effects of several types of soil, including soil that contained added fertilizer. The conclusions of this experiment also are relevant to gardening and to understanding plants.