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Dare to Dream

September 20, 2018
group of people at a stream
Southeast Junior/Senior High School (Yoder) students Carly Keller and Danielle Clapper, along with their teacher, Robin Schainost, collect samples for microbial analysis in the Snowy Range. They are assisted by Wyoming Research Scholar Ella DeWolf and UW Professor Cynthia Weinig. Keller and Clapper won the Wyoming State Science Fair prize in microbiology sponsored by the NSF EPSCoR project and were awarded a mini-internship in Weinig’s lab.

The world needs more wonder, and these young scientists are chasing down answers to society’s most pressing issues.

By Micaela Myers

It’s not often you’ll meet a teenager researching such a complex topic as mycorrhizal fungi as a bioremediation method to break down crude oil in soil. But, if you do, chances are that teenager is involved in science fair.

“I’ve been participating in science fairs for six years,” says high school senior Eduardo Burgos of Greybull High School in Greybull, Wyo., who conducted this year’s bioremediation project using chromatography and spectrophotometry. “I became interested in science fair because I like finding solutions to problems. I really enjoy science, and this was one way I could expand my knowledge on it.”

Burgos took the top spot at the 2018 Wyoming northern regional science fair and also competed at the Wyoming State Science Fair held each March at the University of Wyoming. Here, he took first place in the 2018 senior division environmental sciences category and won a number of cash prizes and certificates. He went on to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh in May. 

“The science fair at UW is a lot of fun every year,” Burgos says. “I like meeting students around the state who also enjoy conducting scientific research.”

This year marked the 20th year UW has organized and hosted the Wyoming State Science Fair.

“It is a pretty large outreach activity for UW, and it involves collaboration with multiple colleges, departments and student organizations,” says Director Erin Stoesz. “We have UW faculty, staff and students pull together to encourage and support a few hundred Wyoming middle and high school students who are doing research.”

Volunteers include 150–200 judges. UW departments and Wyoming businesses and organizations sponsor special awards, and college students help set up and work the event.

“A primary purpose of the science fair is for students to expand their body of knowledge by doing research, designing experiments and asking questions that maybe no one has asked before,” Stoesz says. “It’s a breeding ground for our next generation of STEM learners but also informed citizens and STEM advocates. It gives a real-world understanding of what goes into technology development or scientific discovery.”

Cheyenne East High School biology and environmental science teacher
Kelli Pederson had three of her students compete in this year’s Wyoming State Science Fair. Pederson herself competed when she was in junior high and high school in Basin, Wyo.

three young women in a lab
The students work in the lab with DeWolf.

“It’s been fun to be on the other end, helping a new generation of students who will get to reap the benefits of participating in science fair by designing their own experiments and communicating the results of their projects to professionals in various scientific fields,” Pederson says. “They also have the potential of receiving scholarships, along with the chance of winning a visit to other states to compete at higher levels. Additionally, it can open the door for research opportunities with professors at UW.”

“I want to make a change in the world and make my mark on it,” says Pederson’s student Kendrew Ellis, who graduated in May and started at UW this fall, majoring in environment and natural resources. “My science fair research was on snow pollution in the Medicine Bow National Forest. I tested different elevations to see if they contained different pollutants. I ended up finding that the highest elevation had the most snow pollution.”

Cheyenne gets drinking water from Rob Roy Reservoir, so the project sparked her interest in water conservation. Ellis took her research on to the Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition in North Carolina this past June. Another of Pederson’s students went on to compete in New York at the GENIUS Olympiad.

Ellis highly recommends science fair participation. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from,” she says. “What matters is what you choose to do. We need to leave this planet in better shape than it was before we were here. It all starts and ends with us.”

Pederson says, “I would invite anyone who has concerns about our future generations to visit UW during the state science fair, because you will be inspired by the creativity, strong work ethic and ability of these students to find solutions to scientific problems that our generation has unintentionally created.”

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