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Budding scientists from Pine use unique materials for contest projects

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Submitted | Pine Creek Journal
Pine-Richland Middle School seventh-grader Mahak Sethi earned an award at the Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair on April 5 and 6.
Submitted | Pine Creek Journal
Pine-Richland Middle School seventh-graders Nathan Chang with James Baxter got awards at the Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair on April 5 and 6.
Submitted | Pine Creek Journal
Maggie Burris, a Pine-Richland High School senior who earned an award in the Pittsburgh Science & Technology Fair, works on a project.

Seventh-grader Mahak Sethi of Pine turned waste into wealth at the 74th Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair.

The 12-year-old researcher won $50 — from Chevron — for measuring the energy-producing power of cow dung.

Mahak mixed the cattle manure with wet newspaper, mashed corn and vegetable peelings to compare the amount of gas generated by each mixture.

Marburger Dairy of Forward Township, Butler County, provided the dung that Mahak placed in balloon-topped, two-liter soda bottles.

“We wore gloves, of course, and we had a funnel type thing,” said Mahak, whose name means fragrance in Urdu, a language of Pakistan and north India.

Mahak prepared the bottles of manure and other materials with her parents and project mentors, Prashant and Vaishali Sethi.

“That was the stinkiest part,” said Vaishali Sethi, Mahak's mother.

After weeks of measuring the balloons' inflation, Mahak concluded that mashed corn and wet newspaper produced the most gas fuel.

“I was surprised that the manure didn't produce the most bio-gas because it has 60 percent methane,” said Mahak, who wants to become a physician, according to her mom.

Jeff Ansell, farm manager of Marburger Dairy, remembers when Mahak's family arrived at the dairy to pick up the manure and take it home in a closed container.

“We get a lot of people come in here (for manure) for their flower gardens, but never for a science project,” said Ansell, whose wife, Nicole Ansell, teaches third-graders at Wexford Elementary School in Pine.

Classmates James Baxter and Nathan Chang also split a $50 prize from the Webb Law Firm of downtown Pittsburgh, another science fair sponsor, for their project: “Bike Speed Governor.”

James and Nathan designed a device which they hope to eventually build and perhaps patent.

“It's a device you attach,” said Baxter, 13. “It limits a bike's top speed by centrifugal force and friction.”

James and Nathan used computer aided design software to design, illustrate and represent the speed-limiting device.

“We did not actually build a working prototype, “said James, son of Jill and Tom Baxter of Pine.

“We wanted to do something with a bike, and we wanted to do something that would create a safer environment for children,” said James, who plans to become a mechanical engineer.

What did James learn from the “Bike Speed Governor” project?

“I learned a lot of new mathematical formulas,” he said. “I have a better understanding of physics.”

Mahak, James and Nathan all completed their projects under the supervision of teacher Kathy Deal of the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs at Pine-Richland Middle School and Pine-Richland High School.

“These young kids have some fabulous ideas,” Deal said.

All three seventh-graders entered the science fair as an extracurricular, enrichment activity.

“I'm proud they started something and had the passion and perseverance to pursue it,” Deal said.

Three Pine-Richland High School students also received awards for their listed projects at the 74th Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair:

Evan Stephenson won a Perseverance Award (Junior Scientist) for “Carbon-Based Nanorobotics.”

Margaret Burris won a Perseverance Award (Honorary Scientist) and an award from the Association for Women Geoscientists for “Building an Affordable and Effective Water Retainment Wall.”

Sonali Dadoo won an award from the Duquesne University Department of Biological Sciences for “Advil Effects on 3T3 Cell Proliferation, Survivorship and Regeneration.”

More than 1,000 students from 100 schools in Pennsylvania and Maryland participated in the 74th Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair for $1 million in cash prizes and scholarships.

The annual science fair, which started in 1940, is the third oldest U.S. science fair affiliated with the Society for Science and the Public.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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