Get Schooled: Grafton Hosts County-Wide Science and Engineering Fair is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Jonathan Soto created a wind tunnel to test the effects of spoilers on the aerodynamics on a car. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)
Jonathan Soto created a wind tunnel to test the effects of spoilers on the aerodynamics on a car. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)

More than 300 students from every one of York County’s middle and high schools filled up the halls and common area of the Grafton Complex on Thursday night with science and engineering projects that touched on subjects ranging from the effects water movement on oyster filtration to the time it takes to digest a cheeseburger.

The 2016 York County School Division Science Fair included projects across 15 categories: animal sciences, behavioral and social sciences, biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, earth and planetary science, electrical and mechanical engineering, materials and bioengineering, energy and transportation, environmental sciences, mathematics, medicine and health sciences, microbiology, physics and astronomy and plant sciences.

Each category was divided into a junior and senior division to differentiate between middle and high school students.

While there were plenty of science fair-staples on display – classic experiments like how fast a tooth decays in different beverages and how different genres of music affect heart rate – other students dove into new territory based on their particular interests.

Jonathan Soto, a junior at Tabb High School, decided to parlay his interest in cars into a project on the effect of spoilers – a wing-like addition attached to the back of a car, often for cosmetic purposes – on the aerodynamics of the car.

“I was thinking about putting one on my car and I wanted to know if it would affect the fuel efficiency and traction,” Soto said.

Soto created a wind tunnel of sorts and a small metal car with a spoiler than could be set to different angles in order to test how increasing and decreasing the slope affected the down force, drag and general aerodynamics of the car. He determined a spoiler does affect the aerodynamics of a car, but whether it enhances or worsens the aerodynamics depends on the spoiler’s angle.

While many students used their personal hobbies and interests to inform the creation of projects that had application in their day-to-day lives, others chose to focus on larger-scale issues.

York Science Fair
Gavin McCabe, Brian Fox and Noah Fields created “the Kidminder” to help parents avoid leaving their young children in the car unattended. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)

York High School freshmen Gavin McCabe, Noah Fields and Brian Fox were disturbed by recent news reports of infants and toddlers dying after being accidentally left unattended in hot cars. They decided they wanted to try to create something to prevent that from continuing to happen through their science experiment.

The boys’ project began as an idea for some sort of simple alarm system to remind parents to check the back seat, but over the course of the semester it evolved into something far more sophisticated.

The group met every weekend since September to brainstorm, create and fine-tune their project and ultimately ended up producing a system wherein a pressure pad placed under the cushion of a car seat is linked to an app on the parent’s smartphone and automatically triggers an alarm once the phone registers as being more than 4 meters away. They called their creation “the Kidminder.”

McCabe, Fields and Fox took home first place in the electrical and mechanical engineering senior division, and are now eligible to take their project to compete at the Tidewater Science and Engineering Fair taking place in March.

The science fair’s judges, which included a panel of more than 50 college professors, NASA employees, professional engineers, healthcare professionals, county employees and involved community members, were impressed by the Kidminder’s obvious real-world value, but they were equally taken in by entries that addressed more nebulous challenges.

Noora Abdul-Fattah’s project, “Hydrogen Evolution Using Nano Particles,” was replete with scientific terms and chemical calculations that were, at first glance, incomprehensible to the average person visiting her booth, though she stood by all night and eagerly explained her experiment to anyone interested in listening.

The gist of Abdul-Fattah’s project, which she worked on with a group of chemistry students at Christopher Newport University, was that nano particles could be combined in such a way as to force a chemical reaction, the byproduct of which was water.

Noora Abdul-Fattah was inspired by her A.P. Chemistry and Environmental Science classes to come up with a project that combined the two disciplines. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)
Noora Abdul-Fattah was inspired by her A.P. Chemistry and Environmental Science classes to come up with a project that combined the two disciplines. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)

Abdul-Fattah believes these types of reactions have the potential to solve drought and desertification issues worldwide, when the right combination of chemicals can be combined on a large scale to create water that can be distributed to places in need at low cost.

“My dad has always been a huge advocate of science, and I’m very passionate about doing things to help the world,” Abdul-Fattah said of her inspiration for the project, much of which she completed over the summer in anticipation of becoming too busy to devote time to it during the school year.

Abdul-Fattah’s efforts paid off, as she was awarded second place in the senior division of the chemistry category.

Though the prizes and trophies many of the students went home with Thursday night were a nice recognition of their efforts, many of the judges and educators involved with the fair feel the students may have gained something even more valuable.

“We believe events like the science and engineering fair help foster the creativity and critical thinking skills of our students, so they may be inspired and prepared to become the problem solvers of our future,” said Abbie Martin, York County’s Coordinator of Science K-12. “School based science fair coordinators and teachers work with students throughout the fall to develop their project ideas, implement their experiment or build their prototype, and analyze their data.  Last night’s event was the culmination of many months of hard work.”

Below are the first-place winners for each category. For a full list of first-, second- and third-place winners, click here.

First Place

Middle School

  • Junior Animal Science: Grace Cox, York Middle
  • Junior Behavioral Science: Caroline Parziale, Queens Lake Middle
  • Junior Biochemistry: Allena Flowers, York Middle
  • Junior Chemistry: Caroline Way, Tabb Middle
  • Junior Earth and Planetary Science: Gina Cragg, York Middle
  • Junior Engineering – Electrical and Mechanical: Christopher Herath, York Middle
  • Junior Engineering – Materials and Bioengineering:  Todd White, York
  • Junior Energy and Transportation: Daniel Khalil, Tabb Middle
  • Junior Environmental Science: Jonathan Economou, York Middle
  • Junior Microbiology: Ethan Hall, York Middle
  • Junior Physics and Astronomy: Himagowri Prasad, York Middle
  • Junior Plant Science: Skylar Haskiell, York Middle

High School

  • Senior Animal Science: Sarah Lewis, Tabb High
  • Senior Behavioral Science: Will Siebels and Chun Lu, York High
  • Senior Biochemistry: Annabelle Hovater and Erin Kleinschmidt, York High
  • Senior Chemistry: Claire Du, Tabb High
  • Senior Computer Science: Jim Furches and Liam Billings, York High
  • Senior Earth and Planetary Science: Rachel Shaffer, Tabb High
  • Senior Engineering – Electrical and Mechanical: Gavin McCabe, Noah Fields, and Brian Fox, York High
  • Senior Engineering – Materials and Bioengineering: Suparanamaaya Prasad, York High 
  • Senior Energy and Transportation: Sydney Jacobsen and Ashley Adams, Tabb High
  • Senior Environmental Science: Yenna Chu, Grafton High
  • Senior Mathematics: Sabian Beyon, York High
  • Senior Medicine and Health: Robin Bai, Tabb High
  • Senior Microbiology: Becky Vick, Tabb High
  • Senior Physics and Astronomy: Keely Eubank, York High
  • Senior Plant Science: Margaret Grace Roquemore, Tabb High