Local students take home top awards at state science fair
Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.
Alachua County middle and high school students racked up almost two dozen awards at the 2013 Florida Science and Engineering Fair, the largest academic competition in the state.
Of 891 total Florida students who submitted projects to the fair, which was held during spring break in Lakeland, 23 of the students who received awards came from Alachua County. Four of them earned top awards in their respective categories.
That shouldn't come as a surprise, their teachers say.
Adrienne Thieke, a science teacher at Lincoln Middle School, said Alachua County usually finishes strong in the state fair.
Two of her seventh-graders, Amir Helmy and Joseph Elston, received first place for their projects. The other first-place winners were Adin Richards, from Howard Bishop Middle School, and Lila Bernhardt, from Westwood Middle School.
Thieke said the county's overall success in science fairs is due to the community, and especially parents, placing a high priority on quality of education.
At Lincoln, teachers encourage students to think about their science projects early in the year, she said. Rather than picking experiments at random, the students identify problems they've experienced and spend a lot of time trying to better understand them and work out a solution.
"I think that gives our kids more of an understanding about what science is," Thieke said. "Solving problems is the whole point of doing the science fair."
For her project, 13-year-old Westwood student Lila Bernhardt delved into the nutritional value of kids meals at popular chain restaurants.
She used a computer program to compare kids meal menus of 20 chain restaurants in the United States by creating every possible combination of the choices, such as apples and plain turkey sandwiches. She created 6,441 combinations in all.
"It took most of my spare time," Lila said.
The project — which found that Burger King and Subway had the healthiest kids meals, while Dairy Queen was the least healthy — earned the eighth-grader prizes from two regional science fairs and an award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This was also Lila's third time at the state science fair, where she has placed all three years.
"We're very proud of her," Thieke said.
Three Eastside students who finished at the top of the regional science and engineering fair in February will continue on to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix this May.
Freshman Jessica Lee, sophomore Meenaskhi Bose and junior Lucinda Peng will join about 1,500 students from about 70 countries for the largest international pre-college science competition.
Peng, 17, said she's still in shock from even making it to the state competition.
Her project compared the gait of Eastside High cross-country runners and the relative effect on their joints. The research propelled her toward an interest in biomechanics as a career, she said.
"All of our students are turning in top-notch projects," Eastside environmental systems teacher Steve Everett said. "She's going to represent us quite well."
Other Alachua County students who took home awards were: Sarah Eisenstadt, Elena Newman, Divyanshi Sharma, Risham Sidhu, Sana Lulu, Miette Simpson, Sidhika Balachandar, Collin Oi and Logan Locascio, from Lincoln; Carolyn Collins, Molly Ayers and Isabelle Thomas, from Howard Bishop; and Fiona Schneider, Christopher Fregly, Brandon Kim and Hope Pang, from Eastside.