by Julie Lineback and Bonnie Butcher

Some of the region’s sharpest young minds recently converged on the University of West Georgia when winners of local middle and high school science fairs showcased their hard work at the West Georgia Regional Science and Engineering Fair (WGRSEF). The event is just one of many examples of UWG’s commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in the region.

Ben Jenkins in a jacket, tie, beard, and glasses, speaks with a microphone
Ben Jenkins

“UWG is a leading educator in west Georgia, and of course STEM has become a hot topic recently,” WGRSEF Director Ben Jenkins said. “Everybody is wanting to focus on this because that is where a lot of jobs in the future will be. We want to ensure that the local community knows about these choices and knows that UWG is going to be able to give them that type of education to help train them for the jobs of tomorrow.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in STEM-related occupations is projected to grow to more than 9 million jobs by 2022. But Jenkins, who also works as associate director of the UWG Observatory and senior lab coordinator for the Department of Physics, said many undergraduates arrive at UWG with a dislike of math and science because the subjects are difficult. Programs like WGRSEF help students understand early on that while science and math aren’t necessarily easy topics, it will help them understand how the world works.

“That is an important process for their worldview,” he observed. “Trying to engage them at a young age with things that are not just stuff in classrooms with someone in the front lecturing them can show them the ways these things are going to be a part of their lives as they move forward.”

Jenkins has been involved with WGRSEF since he was an undergraduate volunteer at UWG. When hired as an employee at the university, he served as co-director alongside Dr. Bob Powell, associate professor of physics and director of the observatory, before taking over in 2015.

“My motivation in working with this fair is just my excitement in seeing the younger scientists who are trying to make sense of the world around them, trying to solve problems and trying to figure out new ways of looking at old news,” Jenkins said. “We also invite judges, who are in many cases subject experts in their field. Being able to bring students together with people who are working in the field, having that communication and starting that bridge, is a good thing.”

Professionals invited to judge the projects included UWG faculty as well as representatives from Carroll County Schools, Southwire, Greenway, OFS Optics, and the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project (CBSAP).

Stephen Ramsden, arms corssed, speaks while wearing a baseball cap and NASA patch
Stephen Ramsden

CBSAP director Stephen Ramsden gave the keynote speech for the event. As the world’s largest solar astronomy outreach program, Ramsden and CBSAP host more than 70 events for more than 60,000 students and adults a year with affiliates in 23 countries.

Ramsden, a retired air traffic controller and U.S. Navy veteran, shared his story of growing up with an attentive mother who showed him math flashcards before he even knew how to read and a teacher who took a chance on him and taught him all about science, physics and chemistry.

“Growing up in southwest Atlanta, it was pretty easy for a teacher to dismiss a Southern boy and tell him to play football,” he shared. “Where I’m from, I was very fortunate to have run into this teacher.”

He told the parents and teachers in the audience that their involvement, no matter how big or small, can make an enormous difference in children’s lives. When addressing the students, he reiterated several times that the future is 100 percent dependent on them, be it colonizing Mars or breaking the faster-than-light barrier for travel.

“Don’t stop learning math and science, because it is the absolute key to your future,” he advised. “The best thing you can do right now is study science and math. Math is the language of science, and it’s the easiest language you’ll ever learn.”

Jenkins said he hoped the students in attendance walk away with a broader view of what UWG and science can offer everyone.

“I want them not only to see that their work is important and unique but also that it has applications beyond even what they are currently thinking of,” he concluded.

Hope Lee poses before her poster project titled Digging Up the Hidden Truth
Hope Lee

While many students presented at the fair, the following is a sampling of some of the projects highlighted at the event.

Hope Lee, Lithia Springs High School
“Digging Up the Hidden Truth”
State Winner

Hope’s project focused on PH levels of soil surrounding a gas station. Her hypothesis was if the soil were a basic PH then the gas station was affecting it. She used a PH indicator with the soil to find her results. She found her hypothesis was incorrect because the gas was not affecting the soil at all.

“I learned that a variety of things could affect the soil of the PH and its surrounding area, like vegetation, weathering, erosion and humans.”

Nick Gorzynski, Blair Cowan attend their poster presentation, Investigating the Viability of E. coli and A. aceti in Simulated Venus Environment
Nick Gorzynski, Blair Cowan

Nick Gorzynski and Blair Cowan, Lithia Springs High School
“Investigating the Viability of E. coli and A. aceti in Simulated Venus Environment”
State Winners

Nick and Blair recently learned the different theories of how Earth life originated on earth and were curious whether they could replicate that in an extreme environment. As a result, they made an enclosed environment in a box that simulated the atmosphere of Venus. This enabled them to see how the bacteria in the box lived an adapted. They said they expected the E. coli to thrive, but they were surprised at how well the A. aceti performed, which swelled in number and then leveled off in proliferation.

“I was definitely surprised by the A. aceti being able to live,” Blair said. “The E. coli we kind of knew, and because the A. aceti has acidic purposes, we kind of knew that would work. But we didn’t know how well it would work.”

Cordell Palmer stands before his poster project, Reco the Robot, while holding a robotic automobile
Cordell Palmer

Cordell Palmer, Lithia Springs High School
“Reco the Robot”
1st Place

Cordell’s motive was to create an alternative method of home security instead of the basic home security systems that we see today. He created a robot, named Rico, who is a motion-detecting machine. Once Rico detects motion, he starts to pursue it. It uses an ultra sonic sensor component to navigate through its environment safely. It then captures images and recordings and stores it on an SD card. In the future Cordell hopes to add Wi-Fi control and create an app for the robot.

“When I first started building this robot, I barely knew what any of this was,” said Cordell. “Once I could get a solid foundation of what it was doing, it became pretty easy. Circuitry is really not hard, and that is what this project ultimately taught me.”

Tiffany and Tyler Numa stand before their poster project called Engineering (Materials and Bioengineering)
Tiffany and Tyler Numa

Tiffany and Tyler Numa, Lithia Springs High School
“Engineering (Materials and Bioengineering)”
State Winners

Tiffany and Tyler took on the problem of overheated phones. They recognized this issue often occurs when a phone is charging. Their prediction was that the fabric coconets would lower the temperature of a phone. Using an infrared thermometer, they could accurately measure phone temperature. They found significant decreases in temperature with the fabric pocket. The iPhone had a 10-degree difference and the Galaxy phone had almost a 20-degree difference.

“My favorite part of the process was building the fabric,” said Tiffany. “The material is tear resistant, so we had to figure out how to cut it. We ended up using surgical scissors.”

The following winners from WGRSEF will be attending the state science and engineering fair held at the University of Georgia on April 1.

  • Devika Dutt, Douglas County High School: “Demystifying Antioxidants using Spectroscopy and Electrochemistry”
  • Kenneth Thomas, Lithia Springs High School: “Terror Prevention: Innovating, Integrating and Improving Avionic Security”
  • Miller Lovegrove, Chapel Hill Middle School: “Shake it Off”
  • Blair Cowan and Nicholas Gorzynski, Lithia Springs High School: “Investigating the Viability of E.coli and A. aceti in Simulated Venus Environment”
  • Will Keeter, Long Cane Middle School: “Amp Cramp”
  • Eli Corley, Lee Middle School: “Which Bridge Do You ‘TRUSS’”
  • Will Stephens, Lee Middle School: “Pants Problem”
  • Tiffany and Tyler Numa, Lithia Springs High School: “Cool it Down!”
  • Peter Oyekunle and Ruben Veliz, Lithia Springs High School: “Stick 'em Glove Glue”
  • Hope Lee, Lithia Springs High School: “Digging Up the Hidden Truth”
  • Isabella Naile, Chapel Hill Middle School: “Water Purification for Developing Countries”
  • Alexa Robles, Yeager Middle School: “Jello Dermis”
  • Madison Webb, Carrollton City High School: “Deep Knee Bends with a Wooden Knee            “
  • Jaden Lamar and Anthony Russo, Lithia Springs High School: “Text Neck”
  • Kyle Vanderweit, Chapel Hill Middle School: “Is the Price Right to Keep Ice”
  • Rijul Patel, Chapel Hill Middle School: “How can Magnets be Used to Create Clean Electricity?”
  • Landon Merna, Long Cane Middle School: “What Effect does Caffeine have on Plant Growth?”
  • San San Chen, Carrollton City High School: “Detergents in Plant's Growth”
Posted on February 17, 2017