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Students Soar at Tri-Valley Science Fair

Projects from middle- and high-school students from Danville, Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton, San Ramon and Sunol vied for honors at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory event.

Research good enough to impress even experienced scientists was displayed this week at the 15th annual Tri-Valley Science and Engineering Fair.

Three hundred projects from 413 middle- and high-school students from Danville, Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton, San Ramon and Sunol vied for honors at the event, sponsored by the .

The field was 30 percent larger than last year’s competition, noted LLNL spokeswoman Lynda Seaver. The program was expanded to a second exhibit hall at the in Livermore to present all the projects.

“It is really encouraging to see these students working on some of these science projects," Seaver said. "We consider them the future of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. We hope to have them working at our laboratory some day."

More than 1,000 students, teachers, and parents were on hand for award presentations Thursday night.

Research categories covered behavioral and bioscience, biochemistry, botany, chemistry, computer science, earth science, energy and transportation, engineering, environmental science, mathematics, medicine and health, microbiology, physical science and plant sciences.

Four sweepstakes awards topped 120 honors announced during the evening.

One award-winning project showed that near-infrared light stimulates the growth of microorganisms valued by industry.

Ruchita Gupta and Ray Zhou, juniors at in Pleasanton, measured carbon dioxide released by baker’s yeast to find that cells exposed to near infrared light emitted by light-emitting diodes grew significantly faster than yeast cells not exposed to the NIR light. They also found that NIR could potentially spur cell division for many types of commercially valuable microorganisms.

“This may prove to be a cost-effective method for industrial biosynthesis, seeing LEDs cost only five to ten cents,” Gupta said in an interview.

In addition to their sweepstakes awards, Gupta and Zhou won a first-place honor in the senior microbiology category and special awards from Lawrence Livermore Lab’s biosciences and biotechnology division and the Society for In Vitro Biology. Beth Cutter is their teacher.

Christina Ren, a freshman at in Danville, found inspiration for her experiment in traditional Chinese medicine. Her sweepstakes-winning experiment examined the wound-healing properties of deer antler velvet from the Chinese pharmacopeia and resveratrol, an anti-aging, health food supplement found in red wine and certain plants.

Both agents increase the rate of cell regeneration in a worm, called lumbriculus variegates. It has the ability to regenerate sections of its body.

The sophistication of the project could be seen in Ren’s use of a dissecting microscope to count the number of worm segments that regenerated.

“What is really surprising is that the deer antler velvet substantially increased the regeneration rate,” she said.  "It is hoped that with more advanced research, this project can be applied to humans for cell regeneration, anti-aging and life-extension research.”

In addition to a senior sweepstakes award, Ren received top honors in the competition’s animal sciences category. Meghan Faerber is her teacher for accelerated biology.

Sailing lessons led sweepstakes winner Daniel Cox to experiment with the aerodynamics of sails. The eighth-grader at in San Ramon was urged by his teacher, Jason Miller, to pick a topic he enjoys for the science fair. Learning how to sail last summer with Cal Berkeley Sailing Club led him to think about sail performance.

Cox’s award-winning investigation examined optimal sail design. He proposed that a sail that is four times taller than wide would produce a more powerful air foil than other configurations. He proved his hypothesis by measuring the performance of numerous sail designs in a homemade wind tunnel.

Designing an effective individual water purification system was the engineering goal of Tarun Reddy, Maisam Jafri and Derek Xiao, all eighth-graders at in San Ramon. Tap water contaminated with fish compost and shampoo was drinkable after it was processed through their five-stage filtration system.

The effort earned the three students junior sweepstakes awards and special recognition from . Their teacher is Kimberly Cullen.

Competition at the California State Science Fair is the next step for the Tri-Valley junior winners. Senior winners qualify to compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair $50,000 scholarship is the grand prize.

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