February 7, 2014

College-bound DHS students challenged by science fair

Charles Dobbin, a sophomore at Desert High School, used a wind tunnel that he built with his father to test various air foils and observe their lift and drag coefficients, stall angles and other effects on the wing shape during testing.

A sea of cardboard, tri-fold presentations filled the Desert High Scorpitorium Jan. 31, for the Annual Science Fair.

A panel of 25 community professionals served as judges for the fair the night before and early in the morning.

A series of first and second place ribbons were waiting for the anxious students when they arrived that afternoon to see how they had done.

“The Science Fair represents a lot of hard work and man hours,” said Mark Grubb, Chemistry and Physics instructor at Desert High School.

This year, there were 143 projects, some completed by teams. The fair is mandatory for students enrolled in Chemistry, Biology, Anatomy and Physics classes and counts as a test grade.

According to Debbie Lewis, Biology and Anatomy teacher at DHS, the science fair teaches students how to start a project and stick to it.

“It’s a pain in the drain because it’s a lot of work, but when they get done it’s like ‘this is my excellent project and I’m signing it with excellence.'”

Grubb and Lewis have been grading science fair projects for more than 16 years. According to Grubb, they “stage the process” giving specific dates for the project idea, abstract and final project and report.

He added that a good science fair project will rigorously follow the scientific method. They need to collect data, display it and develop a conclusion about the hypothesis and then see if the data supports it.

“We absolutely encourage people on base to help with science fair projects,” said Grubb. “This ought to be God’s gift to Science and Engineering and there are experts here that can help.”

Gabby Evey, grade 11, contrasted the cleanliness of gyms where people used disinfecting wipes on the equipment and those where people did not, by growing bacteria samples collected on gym equipment. She won first place in her grade.

He added that he would like to see even more support from the Edwards Community in the science fair.

“People need to know how to make rational decisions and follow logical steps to a rational decision that’s based on real, defensible data. Not based on how you feel, or what it looks like or that it’s sparkly,” said Grubb.

Lewis added, “The whole thing about the science fair is college prep. I take it personally when we have a kid that goes to college and they don’t do well. By the time they finish science fair projects they know how to design a project, how to collect data, how to control variables, how to analyze data and then apply it. And, in the meantime, they had to figure out how to use (Microsoft) Excel, how to use Publisher and how to do statistical analysis and write a research paper. That’s all stuff they’ll use in college.”


Charles Dobbin, grade 10

Charles Dobbin, grade 10, received a second place ribbon for his project. He tested various air foils and observed their lift and drag coefficients, their stall angles and other effects on the wings shape during testing.

Dobbin tested the foils in a wind tunnel that he built for last year’s science fair project.  He built the wind tunnel with his father, a program manager in special projects at Edwards.

“It’s the same project that I did last year and I realized that there was a lot more that I could do with it. My dad and I started playing around with new stuff that we could do with it and we came up with a new way to mount the foils so that we could measure more,” said Dobbin.

He shared that he had learned the basics of flight in his ROTC class and felt well-prepared for the project. During his research, he gained a deeper understanding of the lift coefficient and how to detect stall.

Charles Dobbin, grade 10, demonstrates his wind tunnel to another student at the Science Fair Jan. 31.

“I am very excited (to receive second place). Last year I did not place and Ms. Lewis and Mr. Grubb still thought I would able to do very well at county and I was able to stay with third place. I would like to get maybe even second or first place this year at county,” said Dobbin. “I enjoy Science. It’s probably my favorite subject.”

Dobbin’s mother, Sean Dobbin, recalled the months spent designing and building the wind tunnel last year.

“I was floored. I couldn’t believe they were putting so much effort into a tool to do the test, it wasn’t the test itself. The wind tunnel’s not the project and I couldn’t believe that,” said Sean Dobbin.

She added that her husband’s co-workers met with Dobbin over lunch to answer questions and offer guidance for his project.

“I’m very proud of him,” said Sean Dobbin. “They did well last year with the project, made it to the county-level, so this year they wanted to take it to the next higher level. They modified the wind tunnel to include a lot more data, a lot more options, bought new sensors, talked to aeromechanical engineers. He really just stepped it up this year, I’m very proud of him.”


Gabby Evey, grade 11

Gabby Evey received a first place ribbon for her project titled, “Microbial Exposure Included in Gym Membership.”

Evey has been studying microbiology for the science fair since her freshmen year.

“My freshmen year I grew bacteria that I found in bathrooms. It was very much a freshmen year project, all I did was measure the amount of growth. My sophomore year I took it further and identified all the growth,” said Evey. “This year I found that, since I was an athlete too, this was something really prevalent to me. I was inspired by a Tampa Bay Buccaneers incident when three people got infected this summer from a training facility.”

This year, she went into public gyms in the local area and observed whether people used the available disinfecting wipes. She then swabbed the equipment for various bacteria and grew them in an incubator.

What she found was a direct correlation between the number of people using wipes and the cleanliness of the facility.

“People don’t really realize that by not using the wipes they’re exposing themselves to so many different types of bacteria. I identified Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which has been in the news all over, in NFL locker rooms infecting everybody,” said Evey. “Two Michigan high school districts this year closed due to MRSA infections and two students died.”

According to Evey, the bacterium is transmitted through skin to skin or skin to surface contact. If it makes its way into an open wound, MRSA can cause infections. Evey received assistance from personnel at the Medical Group in identifying the bacterium.

Students arrived at the Science Fair at Desert High School after 24 hours of waiting to see how well they did on their projects Jan. 31.

“It was really nice because I’ve done these projects the last two years and I’ve never had an auger that had different colors for the diff types of bacteria. For example, the MRSA turned pink,” said Evey. “The ones I didn’t know, they helped me look at under the microscope and identify it.”

Evey noted that she hadn’t realized, until she began her research, how many people were being affected by MRSA every year.

“I took away that MRSA is found 18% of the time. I swabbed 50 times and we found MRSA on 9 plates. There were also normal gastro-intestinal bacteria on there, so people aren’t washing their hands and then they’re touching the equipment. People don’t really realize what they’re being exposed to when they go to the gym. As long as they think it’s not looking sweaty then they think its fine, but it’s not,” said Evey.

Evey has made it to the Kern County Science Fair for two years and looks forward to this years’ competition.

“I want to become an Air Force pilot, but this is an interest of mine that’s really fun. Hopefully I can incorporate it in some part of my career.”

“I am just amazed,” said Evey’s mother, Rebecca Evey. “The amount of time that she puts into this is unbelievable. Her dedication to school and then this project just amazes me. She’s done a really good job with networking on base and the people from the laboratory and their facilities here on base. There are a lot of people out there these days that are willing to help our kids and I think that’s really important.”


Katherine Lott and Sabrina Belen, Grade 12

Katherine Lott and Sabrina Belen called their project, “Here Comes the Sun,” another first-place project. The project tested the effectiveness of a helio tracker in comparison with a static solar panel.

The helio tracker is a solar panel placed on a platform that follows the suns movements to gather more solar energy than a flat or angled solar panel. A helio tracker is normally computer-operated.

The one that Lott and Belen tested requires no electronics.

Sabrina Belen (left) and Katherine Lott (right) tested the effectiveness of a home-made helio tracker. Their project is titled, “Here Comes the Sun.”

“It’s just pressurized bottles connected by a tube which, when the sun would hit the two tubes, it would cause the two panels to move, sort of like a seesaw,” said Lott.

Lott and Belen received assistance from Lott’s father, a mechanical engineer at NASA. The final product ended up being one-ninth of the size they had originally intended and they tested it indoors.

If they make it to the county-level competition, Lott and Belen would like to build a much larger helio tracker and test it outdoors in the “real world.”

“The problem with helio trackers that are used commercially is that normal people can’t use them it’s too complex. But, obviously a little panel with alcohol and pressure, you just set it outside and it does the work for you,” said Lott.

Belen added, “We were looking for a cost effective way to build one instead of using a computer to track the sun if we could build one just using tubes and pressure. It’s for more rural areas instead of commercial, but you can also use them in commercial.”

The team spent several months designing the apparatus and spent 24 hours testing it.

“We were not really surprised (by the data), just trying to collect as much data as possible to be as accurate as possible for the project,” said Belen.

“First place, felt really awesome,” said Lott. “Science fair is always nervous because we turn the projects in the day before and have to wait the whole next day with anxiety in our stomachs waiting to find out how we did.”


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