PEEC’s 2018 Science Fair Award Recipients

By Terry Beery, Bob Dryja, and Jennifer Macke

The 2018 Los Alamos County science fair was held on January 20th. Each year, PEEC provides small cash awards to students at the fair. In judging for these prizes, we look for projects about the natural world, particularly ones that take inspiration from nature, make use of local materials from nature, are conducted outdoors, or aim to improve the environment. There are usually several projects with these characteristics, and we choose a few of the best for prizes.

We enjoyed talking to the 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 all involved, and we encourage local citizens to volunteer as science fair judges.

Here are this year’s PEEC award winners:

Senior Division

“Hydroponic Agriculture: Commercial vs Individual Growth in New Mexico” by Gabriel Holesinger, Uriah Sanchez, and Xavier McTeigue

These high school scientists were interested in agricultural water usage, specifically in the Santa Fe area. They built indoor growing structures where they compared plant growth, along with water and electrical usage, in soil versus hydroponic systems. They found that hydroponic farming used far less water and had fewer problems with insect pests. They hope that their work will be encourage more hydroponic farming in the area.

science fair projectJunior Division

“What Seeds do Birds Prefer” by Cohen McKown

This project asked a question that many birders have wondered: how can I attract the greatest diversity of birds to my feeder? To answer this, the student-scientist took motion-activated photos of birds at a backyard feeder, and tested two variables: food type and feeder location. The results showed the greatest diversity of birds came to eat black sunflower seed, and a location near trees attracted more diversity than a feeder in an open location.

“Plant Leaf Chromotography” by Marissa Meierdierks

We liked this project because the student-scientist used various types of leaves from her own back yard, and did several experiments to try to separate the leaf pigments from both green and autumn leaves.

“Cosmic Rays in New Mexico” by Ellie Merrill

This student-scientist built her own cosmic ray detector, and counted the occurrence of cosmic rays in Los Alamos, and in Roswell, at a lower elevation. We were impressed with the effectiveness of the apparatus itself, and with the quality of the experiment, which was done with multiple trials and counts done by multiple people.

Elementary Division

“New Mexico’s ‘Irontastic’ Soil” by Malaya Haynes

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.

“What is Living in Your Water” by Wesley Lementino

This project looked at the presence of bacteria and other particles in water from Ashley Pond, the Jemez River, and Los Alamos tap water. We liked this project for its use of local outdoor resources. Happily, no bacteria were found in Los Alamos tap water.

“Mitchell Trail Discoveries” by Freddy Bnoyles

We liked this project because it took place outdoors on a local trail. The student seemed to have learned a lot about local volcanic rocks!

Judges for Next Year

Students appreciate being visited by several judges. They have their interests taken seriously and discussed with interested adults.  Adults also can obtain a sense of what is occurring with science and math education in the Los Alamos schools. Please contact David Coblentz if interested in helping next year. He is the lead organizer of the science fair, and you can contact him at or (505) 695-4839. 

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