Students Dream Big at Wyoming State Science Fair

By Richard Loft
04/08/2015 - 12:00am

UCAR, CISL and the University of Wyoming teamed up again this year to recognize and inspire science students at the Wyoming State Science Fair (WSSF), held in the Wyoming Union Ballrooms on the University of the Wyoming campus in Laramie on March 2-3, 2015. A total of 369 students from every part of the state participated in the event, some traveling hours by car and bus. The science fair culminated months of work by the students, with intense competition and excitement the order of the day.

Rachel McCrary and Rich Loft of CISL, Don Lenschow of MMM (emeritus), and Tim Barnes and Marc Mueller of UCAR’s Center for Science Education collaborated to do science outreach to student tour groups and to judge student projects. Each year, the University of Wyoming also chips in to provide funding for the monetary prizes for these special awards.

The main day of the event (March 2nd) began with the team setting up the UCAR outreach booth and interacting with dozens of students during their booth tours. The NCAR/UCAR staff did physics experiments demonstrating the principles of angular momentum, rotation, and tornado formation. 

The afternoon was devoted to judging student projects for this year’s NCAR-Wyoming Special Awards.  These awards are given to meritorious projects in Junior and Senior divisions and in each of the Earth Sciences and Math/Computer Science disciplines.

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Marc Mueller, UCAR
Special award winners receiving their prizes and certificates at the 2015 Wyoming State Science Fair. From left to right: Li Qingfeng, Samatha Rogaczewski, University of Wyoming Professor Bryan Shader, Mary MacGuire, and William McInroy. 

This year four students were selected for the special awards, including two Junior Geoscience Awards, and a Junior and Senior Math/Computer Science Award: no award was granted in the Senior Earth Science category. The winning students and projects were:

  • Junior Geoscience: Samantha Rogaczewski, "Let it Snow." In this project Samantha investigated whether fences or rows of conifers make more effective snow barriers along roads. She blew powder on scale models of each type of barrier to test their snow blocking power. She also considered issues like total lifetime costs of each solution in her study.
  • Junior Geoscience: Mary MacGuire, "Terraforming the Martian Environment with Extremophiles." NASA has nothing on this young scientist, who built her own “Mars jar” to simulate the Martian environment and find out if different species of hardy lichens from Wyoming’s Big Horn mountains wouldn’t be more at home on the Red Planet. Mary found that some may indeed be ready for the drastic change in zip code.
  • Senior Math/Computer Science: William McInroy, "A Multipurpose Convolutional Neural Network API." William developed a software package with a set of interfaces designed to enable the rapid creation of customized neural network configurations. He went on to demonstrate the package on a handwritten character recognition program.
  • Junior Math/Computer Science: Li Qingfeng, "Personal Collision Avoidance System." Li Qingfeng wondered why, in this digital era, blind people were still using canes to detect obstacles. So he set out to build a wearable computer system built into a baseball cap that uses ultrasonic waves to detect them.

These award-winning projects represent only a small fraction of the energy and creativity that hundreds of young Wyoming scientists brought to the 2015 Science Fair. Joy Johnson of WSSF provided more images of the brightest moments from the Wyoming State Science Fair through the lenses of the students.