Anthony Saturnino may only be in Grade 7 but he’s already mastered the use of diodes, PCB boards and Arduino systems.
The St. Margaret Mary student put his tech skills to the test at the System Science and Engineering Fair at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School on March 3 with a Hot Car Death Prevention System (HCDPS) which placed in the top four at the fair.
His HCDPS – a technology-equipped car seat – prevents hot car deaths through an intricate sensor system that notifies parents when an infant is accidentally left in the car, and triggers an alarm when the temperature reaches a critical threshold.
It’s a concept that Anthony came up with nearly three years ago.
“I had this idea in Grade 4 and I just had to wait to use it because I wasn’t as developed,” he said.
This year, armed with more knowledge and some help from his older brother, Joseph, a national science fair winner, he was ready to take on the challenge.
“I decided I might as well do it because it’s a pretty cool idea.”
The project not only won Anthony a BASEF Award – presented to the top four intermediate projects – but a gold medal.
Other less tangible but more important gains are the skills that come from doing a science fair project. These, for Anthony, included expanding his knowledge and understanding of electronics and computer systems and software, and developing research and presentation skills.
“You get to learn a lot of stuff that you never knew before,” said Anthony. “It helps in school a lot a lot because you research all this stuff and when a teacher asks a question, you know the answer because you looked at all these websites. It’s a good experience actually.”
That’s the purpose of science fair, said System Science and Engineering Fair Co-Chairperson, Kevin MacIsaac, explaining that science projects extend beyond science and present a number of cross-curricular connections.
“They integrate a number of learning strategies, such as project organization, time management and public speaking. Our hope is that students are able to apply their learning to different situations.”
Anthony’s project was one of 230 on display at this year’s 36th Annual System Science and Engineering Fair where 400 students from 39 elementary schools tested the limits of science with projects that sought to find solutions to environmental problems, raise awareness about conditions and health risks, and answer some of life’s little questions.
“Science is part of our daily lives – from cooking and gardening, to recycling and understanding the daily weather report, to reading a map and even using electronic devices,” said System Science and Engineering Fair Co-Chairperson Michael Campbell. “Being science literate will no longer be just an advantage, but an absolute necessity.”
“Participation in a science and engineering fair or robotics project provides students with the opportunity to think critically, to analyze and test a problem, and apply it to everyday life.”
St. David student, Paolo Ramelli, decided to test a problem with his project on “Dirty Money.” The sixth grader wanted to see what kind of bacteria was being transmitted through the handling of paper bills and coins. Quite a lot, he discovered, including strands of Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacteria that causes flesh eating disease.
Paolo said the results just reinforce the importance of hand-washing.
“It’s especially important for people who work at places like Fortino’s where they serve sandwiches,” he commented. “They need to remember to change their gloves after handling money.”
While Paolo is hoping to raise awareness about disease prevention, Julia Roccosanto, a Grade 5 student at Guardian Angels Catholic Elementary School, is hoping to raise awareness about early disease detection. Julia was diagnosed at age 7 with Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disease which often leads to hypothyroidism.
Like many people with Hashimoto’s, Julia’s symptoms went largely unnoticed. Her message to others: “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Because it’s an invisible disease, people may look fine but they may actually have a medical condition.”
She added that undertaking a science project on Hashimoto’s helped her to understand a lot about her own condition.
“Plus, it’s a lot of fun, especially if you’re doing it with a friend.”
Nichole Fajardo-Orozco was also compelled to find answers after witnessing a football player knocked unconscious at a University of Notre Dame football game last November. Nichole, a Grade 8 student at St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School, did extensive research on head injuries and concussions to learn what lasting effects they had on the brain. Out of 16 adults surveyed, she found that individuals who sought help after a concussion experienced recovery, while those who “shook it off” put themselves at risk for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease for which there is no recovery.
She said doing a science project was an effective learning tool. Science projects at St. Joseph are optional.
At Corpus Christi Catholic Elementary School where science projects are mandatory, Gianluca Mucci decided to do his project on earthquakes, an area which he said has always interested him. In “Whose Fault Is It?” the Grade 6 student set out to find out which surface was best at keeping buildings in earthquake-prone areas from sinking. He filled plastic tubs with three different samples – gravel, sand and clay soil. The tubs were fastened onto a wooden board balanced on five tennis balls. Inside the bucket, buried 3 cm below the soil sample, was a narrow Lego structure. The experiment measured how long it took for the structure to tumble after the board was shaken.
“Sand protects best during an earthquake” concluded Gianluca, adding his test has huge implications for developing countries where “when a big earthquake happens, everything gets destroyed.”
“The information I learned when testing the three surfaces can help in this situation,” he said, noting that at risk countries “can maybe consider building houses, stores, buildings and other structures on a different surface that can absorb the earthquake’s shock better.”
He added that one area of the world that could really use this information is California where the San Andreas Fault is ready to rupture, likely causing an 8.5 magnitude earthquake.
Earthquakes were also the focus of a science project by Ryan Reiche and Christopher Troiani, Grade 6 students at St. Gabriel, although rather than the San Andreas Fault, their project was inspired by the earthquake in Europe last summer. In “Shake, Rattle and Record,” the boys built a seismograph to measure the shaking of the earth during an earthquake. They combed through different websites for instructions, taking elements from each to build a customized seismograph which they powered with Knex.
“I found it interesting how we had to pick our own top topic so we really had to think instead of just being told what to do,” said Ryan. “You have to research more and create your own experiment.”
The boys worked after hours and on weekends for a full month to complete their gold medal project.
That’s the measure of success, said Assistant Superintendent of Education Greg Tabone: “If the student worked hard, improved his thinking and organizational skills, increased knowledge and had some fun along the way, then he was successful.”
He added that this year’s fair gave student exhibitors in Grade 4 and 5 the option of presenting digitally or using the traditional backboard.
“We are waiting to see what the uptake will be with this new digital method,” said Tabone. “Science learning is a valuable tool especially when coupled with technology.”
“As a school board, we are looking to see if the future is present in our classrooms,” he added. “Science projects are a powerful catalyst for sparking innovative ideas in students.”
The science fair concluded with an awards ceremony which recognized top projects with a bronze, silver or gold medal. BASEF awards were also presented to the top four intermediate projects, while Environmental Awards recognized the top projects in that area.