Science competition keeps kids on track to be next wave of researchers
At 14, Jonathan Russell is trying to do some serious science.
He's a big fan of cars, and the growing prominence of alternative motor fuels inspires him. So the Fox Chapel eighth-grader decided to experiment with how temperatures affect the viscosity of several types of organic oils.
The work earned him a top prize in biophysics — and a $1,000 check — from the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science's 18th annual regional meeting this weekend in Pittsburgh.
It's Russell's second year in the academy, and he says it's getting him hands-on experience in a lot of important things: research, public speaking and networking with a different set of peers. Getting into a room with some of the best students in the region is pushing him to do better work.
“At school, I know those people, so it's a little easier. This is more nerve-racking,” Russell said. “It makes you try a little harder. I just like the competition.”
Russell was one of nearly 800 students to come out over the weekend for the academy's first regional finals at Duquesne University, Uptown. After years of moving from high school to high school, the program is settling in at a venue that allows an all-digital competition, organizers said.
Students fill more than 50 classrooms, each giving 10-minute digital presentations with slideshows just like professional scientists use for talks at conferences and symposiums.
University faculty have been planning for two years to host the competition, in part because they see it as one of the best programs to get the region's brightest kids interested in science.
Local workforce data suggest Western Pennsylvania will need about 23,000 new employees in science fields by 2016, but local universities have been graduating fewer than half that many students from science programs. That inspired businesses to work with schools and nonprofits on growing several local educational programs to get younger students interested in science.
“If we don't engage them early, they decide they're going to be businessmen, they're going into law,” said Ralph A. Wheeler, chair of Duquesne's department of chemistry and biochemistry. “We lose them.”
Hands-on experience at a young age prevents that and inspires kids to work toward careers in technology, engineering and math, according to organizers and students.
At the academy, Jack Martha, 13, of Gibsonia tested whether classical or rap music would help plants grow faster.
Research gets much more sophisticated as students get older. Clayton Gentilcore, 18, of O'Hara used a cell line from Swiss mice in a Carnegie Mellon University lab to test how exposure to kale and hydrogen peroxide would affect cell growth.
Tim Zenchak of Baldwin said the program helped both of his children mature and improve their grades and their communication skills. His daughter, in eighth grade, researched how the brain affects decision-making, and his son, now a high school senior, wants to be a chemical engineer because of the several years he spent in the academy's competitions, Zenchak said.
“That experience helps them with all aspects of their life,” he said. “It taught them to be more self-reliant and have confidence in their abilities.”
Timothy Puko is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- 2 Oakland houses destroyed by fire; none hurt
- Controller to examine how much vehicles cost Allegheny County
- Google grants teachers’ school supply wishes
- Diocese of Pittsburgh plans service in response to black mass
- Coach accused in $2,400 theft from Baldwin Hockey Club
- State lawmakers delay hearings on Corbett’s review of academic standards
- Backers of airport trade center look for more funding
- Nonprofits replace humdrum charity 5Ks with rappelling
- Parents keep children home from Brookline schools over threats
- Number of jobs in high-tech industry outpace workers in Pittsburgh, nation
- Judge drops charges against Ambridge ROTC instructor’s wife