by Dennis Dalman
Four Sartell Middle School seventh-grade students brought back gold and silver awards from the Minnesota Science and Engineering Fair March 18-20 in Bloomington.
One team, comprised of Sam Neuman and Rory Spanier, earned the Gold Award, the top award possible from the Minnesota Academy of Science. The two boys impressed the judges with their project, which is an interactive tic-tac-toe game in which humans try to beat the computer at various skill levels. The Gold Award is given to those who receive judging scores in the top 5 percent.
Nearly 500 projects were presented at the competition. About 700 students in grades 7-12 participated at the Fair.
Another Sartell team, comprised of Eric Schatz and Graham Lorsung, was honored with the Silver Award. The team’s project, a study of friction and centers of gravity, notes the effects of different weights and driving surfaces, using remote-control model cars. The Silver Award is given to those who make the top 15 percent, based on the judges’ scores.
Those four boys also won the Seagate Technology Award, which honors the top 40 participants who are first-time competitors at the Fair. A fifth competitor, Patreece Engelmeyer of Sartell Middle School, presented her project, which is the study of the various effects of types of acid on shellfish in water.
All five Sartell Middle School students had been winners at the regional level. Their science teacher is Gina Anderson.
Joan Schatz, the mother of Eric Schatz, attended the Fair as an observer.
“It was very interesting,” she said, “and a great learning experience. The students had to put together all their data and then present it to the judges. The judges would stroll through the big ballroom and ask questions of the students. Six different groups of judges stopped to ask Eric and Graham questions about their project.”
The underlying concept of the Fair, Schatz said, was to use the scientific method to test hypotheses.
“It’s interesting about half of the hypotheses of the projects turned out to be either incorrect or inconclusive,” Schatz said. However, the projects were not judged on whether or not hypotheses were proven correct or incorrect but rather on the scientific rigor with which students developed and then scrupulously tested their hypotheses.