Keynote speaker Lisa Chamberlain poses with first-place winners Abigail Goyette and Suvin Sundararajan, both of Westfield High School.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Students from around the region displayed the results of some three dozen experiments Friday at the 13th annual Western Massachusetts Region 1 High School Science & Engineering Fair.
Displays ranging from wall-climbing robots to talking to plants to red dye in sports drinks to coral bleaching were set up on the Amsler Campus Center at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, offering a chance for students to explain their projects and move on to the annual state fair.
An item on reef safety had caught Cloey Parlapiana's eye during a trip to the ocean. Her experiment looked at the efficacy of safe sunscreens — those that don't have ingredients that can damage coral reefs or people.
"I tested a regular Neutrogena sunscreen against five reef safe ones to see how they did in protecting skin," the Taconic High student said. "I found out zinc oxide is the best ... you should look in the ingredients for zinc oxide and you should make sure you don't have any bad ingredients like oxybenzone and homosalate."
For Kayla Berry of Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School, it was her passion for forensics that inspired her research.
"I really like forensics so I thought bringing forensics to the science fair would be really cool," she said. She focused on what blood spatter looks like when dropped on a flat surface at different heights. "I found out that the diameter of blood splatters changes from the height they're dropped from."
Research and exhibits were judged during the morning and opened to the community after lunch. Keynote speaker was Lisa Chamberlain, managing partner of The Chamberlain Group in Great Barrington and a trustee of MCLA.
"I'm really impressed by the work you've done here today and shown just your willingness to stand up and put your stuff out there is not easy," said Chamberlain, who told the students that science is also part serendipity — "happy accidents make great adventures in life."
Chamberlain's career path had been in the arts, attending the Yale School of Drama to earn a master of fine arts in theater management. The arts intersected with technology when she and her husband, Eric, created the breakthrough "bullet time" camera system used in "The Matrix." After a few years in special effects, the couple's career veered toward science as they became interested in developing and manufacturing incredibly lifelike anatomical models used in medical training.
"We're just a bunch of movie people who decided to put our energies toward another thing," she said.
She encouraged the students to look beyond the subject, or "box," they're interested in for those "happy accidents" that can lead them down to unknown paths. After all, she said, when she was in college preparing for a career in theater, the type of work she's doing now didn't even exist.
"The great doctors and the great engineers know that the boxes that are divided up provide definition but that reaching beyond the boxes and making those connections between seemingly disparate topics, using their wit and their guts, their gut instinct about things is what sets them apart from their peers," Chamberlain said. "And I would argue that people who are well rounded would recognize that in life there are no boxes."
She encouraged them to "be willing not to know the answer to every question" but rather be the one willing to find the answers.
"That my friends, is your mission in life, to go forward and find out what it's all about. What excites you. It also makes life fun," Chamberlain said. "Work feeds you when you feed the work. ... Do something that's worth the effort to make the time to make it happen."
The science fair is held in part to build awareness of careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields (with the arts often added in) and MCLA is a lead partner in the Berkshire and Pioneer Valley's STEM Pipeline Network. Eligible participants can go on to the Massachusetts Science & Engineering Fair that offers more than a half-million in scholarships and prizes each year. The fair will be held at the Johnson Athletics Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology on May 3 and 4.
The two first-place winners, Abigail Goyette for "Concentration of Red Dye in Sports Drinks" and Suvin Sundararajan for "Analysis of the Manufacturing Process of D-Glucose Based Thermoformed Polymers," also earned entry into the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Both students are from Westfield High School, which sent a large contingent to Region 1 fair.
Other high schools participating included Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School in Adams, Deerfield Academy, Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield, Northfield Mount Hermon School, Stoneleigh Burnham School in Greenfield, and Taconic High School in Pittsfield.
The judges were from a wide range of companies and organizations, including General Dynamics, GL&V USA, Berkshire Health Systems, Neenah and Coll Consulting and the University of Massachusetts, among others. The fair was dedicated to the late Charles Kaminski of Berkshire Community College who had been a longtime member of the planning committee, scientific review committee and a judge.
"Problem-solving, innovation creativity and critical thinking are key skills that STEM can help foster," said Shannon Zayac, co-director of the fair. "You all showed these skills today and they will continue to help guide you on whatever path you choose to take in life."
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