By Jennifer Macke and Bob Dryja
Each year, PEEC provides small cash awards to students at the Los Alamos County science fair. While judging, we look for projects that incorporate PEEC-related criteria: inspiration from nature, use of natural materials, tie-in with the local outdoors, betterment of the environment, and good quality science. Of course, no project incorporates all of these criteria, but there is usually a good selection of projects that meet several of them. We enjoy talking to students who have new perspectives on the natural world as a result of their research.
Choosing award recipients was especially challenging this year. In fact, we had so much difficulty deciding on the Elementary Division awards that we threw in a 4th award in this division in order to avoid having to narrow the field down to just three. Here are this year’s PEEC award winners:
“The Color of Leaves” by Dawnmarie Shipley’s 2nd grade class. This project impressed us with its use of leaves collected outdoors by the students, and we marveled at the idea of 2nd graders doing chromatography!
“We’re Going Green” by Heidi Schembri’s Kindergarten class. The students used various natural outdoor materials to filter pollutants from water.
“Winter Growing System” by Troy Makela. Troy built a successful growing box lit with solar-powered LED lights for growing plants in winter.
“Is Eco-Station Compost Good for a Garden?” by Tyler Chamberlin. We loved this project for its use of local materials. It also answered an important practical question: does our Eco-Station compost contain weed seeds? No, it doesn’t!
“Drying, Not Dying. The Photobiology of Lichens” by Amaya Coblentz. This project examined rehydration and dehydration strategies of foliose lichens. It was an excellent project focused on a natural phenomenon.
“The Effect of Salinity on the Growth of Algae” by Olivia Belian. This project was inspired by the promise of algae as a fuel source and the presence of salinity in New Mexico ground water. Can brackish water be used to grow algae? Yes!
“A Flying Adventure. How Does Nature Help Birds Fly With More Lift and Less Drag Forces” by Maria Gaudi Fanelli. The project’s inspiration came from nature, and it made great use of Legos!
“Automated Irrigation System” by Sam Crooks. The project addressed a conservation issue with computer programming. Sam constructed and programmed a microcontroller that monitors light intensity, soil moisture, and soil temperature continuously. The microcontroller was also programmed to turn a water valve on or off based on the soil moisture level. This project inspired us to re-think the conservation potential for PEEC’s gardens at the nature center.