At the mention of a science fair, most people think of an elementary school competition with volcano models that spew the foamy products of a baking soda and vinegar reaction. Few think of a college campus teeming with elaborate experiments that range from robotic arms to potential cancer treatments. Even fewer would believe that these advanced projects are the products of middle and high school students.
On March 22, Research in Science (RIS) students traveled to Camden County College, Blackwood Campus in Blackwood, NJ, where the Coriell Science Fair took place. Students from Gloucester, Burlington and Camden Counties represented their schools at Coriell, which is hosted by the Coriell Institute for Medical Research. Every experiment fell under one of fifteen categories, such as Chemistry of Microbiology.
East students who take the RIS elective have the chance to compete in the annual Coriell Science Fair. In RIS, students perform a research project by creating their own experiment and collecting data, which will eventually culminate into a research paper and informative poster that can be entered into Coriell. It is a “ninth-period” class, meaning that while the students communicate with Mr. Scott Wright, a Biology 1A teacher and the RIS advisor, during school, it does not actually take up one of the eight periods during the school day. Thus, the majority of the research is done individually.
“Students spend six to eight hours a week [on their projects],” said Wright. “They need to spend the time that they would on English, or History or [Biology].”
After the students arrived at the Camden County College campus at 8:45 a.m., they explained their experiments to the judges.
“It was intimidating… because [the judges] had PHD’s,” said Shyam Handa (’16).
At Coriell, Abi Muthumani (’15) won the Louis L. Coriell Best of Fair Award with her experiment on a potential cancer treatment. East also had students who placed first in Behavioral and Social Sciences, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering, Medicine and Health, Microbiology, and Physics; and second in Engineering, Environmental Science, Mathematics, and Medicine and Health. Additionally, East had multiple third-place winners in Behavioral and Social Sciences, Medicine and Health, and Microbiology, along with numerous honorable mentions in Behavioral and Social Sciences, Environmental Science, and Medicine and Health.
Students who placed in the top three of their category at Coriell advanced to the Delaware Valley Science Fair, where students from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware presented their projects once again. It took place at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA on April 1 to April 3. At this tri-state competition, two students from East won third- place prizes while another three students received honorable mentions.
“Compared to Coriell, [Delaware Valley] was a lot more intense,” said Miku Fujita (’16), who performed a Behavioral and Social Science experiment.
Regardless of whether they won an award at Delaware Valley or not, many East students still took something away from the experience.
“There were a variety of projects, especially at [Delaware Valley]. I felt very inspired,” said Vimalesh Vasu (’16), who had advanced from Coriell to Delaware Valley.
Other students, like Muthumani, who has been researching for her experiment for three years, sees the value of science fairs like Coriell and Delaware Valley.
“I feel like there’s not a lot of credit that goes towards scientific research,” said Muthumani. “Just to see all those kids, from so many different areas of research… Just to see kids do that is really amazing.”