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Balloon-powered Vehicle Success

Hands-on engineering got a boost of balloon power with the fun 2015 Fluor® Engineering Challenge. Congratulations to everyone who joined the challenge and shared their creation!

2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge sample of entries for balloon-powered car challenge

More than 1,500 kids around the world gathered balloons, CDs, tape, straws, and pennies in February and March to take part in the first K-12 Fluor Engineering Challenge. Perfectly timed to offer an exciting hands-on engineering activity for Engineers Week, the Fluor Engineering Challenge presented an exciting puzzle for students. How can you use the least materials from the approved list to build a balloon-powered vehicle that will carry the most weight across the finish line of the test area?

With no sample (that used only the allowed materials) provided as a model for the Balloon-Powered Car Challenge project, kids were encouraged to design their own vehicles, put them to the test, and then redesign and retest, as needed, to get the best combination of materials and performance. This was a wonderful opportunity for students to put the Engineering Design Process in action!

It was exciting to see submissions coming in from students ranging in age from 4 to 18. Hundreds of images poured in to Science Buddies as the deadline for entries approached.

As the submissions arrived, the power of hands-on engineering activities for students was abundantly clear. There were all kinds of exciting, innovative, and creative balloon-powered vehicles designed, built, and tested by students in response to the challenge project. Presented with the challenge, the list of materials, the objective, and the guidelines for calculating a final score, students didn't follow a cookie-cutter approach to building their vehicles. The innovation, imagination, and engineering spirit demonstrated by those who took the 2015 Fluor Challenge was awesome!

The photos above show just a small sampling of the many, many student entries. As you can see, students had all kinds of creative ideas for how to accomplish the goal. Which designs do you think worked best? Why? Grab some materials and build your own to find out!

Congratulations to the team from Coppell Middle School East in Coppell, Texas, whose team entry won the random drawing for the 2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge and earned $1,500 USD from Flour for their school!

Fluor is a proud sponsor of Science Buddies.

Fluor is a registered service mark of Fluor Corporation. All rights reserved.



The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest gives U.S. secondary public schools a chance to use STEM to help address problems affecting their students and communities. By isolating a problem and applying science to the problem, schools can enter to win a share of $2 million in technology.

Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest

What problem exists for you and your students—and how can science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) help solve it? Answer those two questions in up to 100 words (each) to give you and your students a chance at a share of $2 million dollars' worth of technology from Samsung to support your and your students' vision of a STEM solution.

The Samsung SOLVE for Tomorrow education contest is open to public school teachers, grades 6-12, in U.S. states and Washington, D.C. There are four phases to the contest, with state finalists from phase 1 advancing to phase 2 and state winners from phase 2 moving on to phase 3. State winners each receive a minimum of $20,000 in technology for their school, including a Samsung camcorder and laptop that they then use to create a video showcasing their project or solution. State winners move on to national competition, and, in April, five national winners will be named. Each of the five national winners will receive a technology grant of $120,000.

Making Direct Impact with STEM

Hands-on STEM education brings science to life for students, but when the hands-on challenge to solve is one that directly affects the students or the local community, students have the opportunity to see how STEM can make a difference in the real world.

To enter the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, teachers need to brainstorm with students and be prepared to answer three questions (100 words or less each) as part of the online entry form:

  1. Describe an important issue in your school's community today.
  2. Explain how you could apply STEM to address the above issue.
  3. What is the biggest hurdle your students face that hinders their academic achievement?

If you make it through the first phase, you will begin working with your students to implement a solution, beginning with a lesson plan (phase 2) and a video (phase 3).

To get a sense of the kinds of projects that have won in the past, and to be inspired by what is possible when students and teachers work together to apply science, technology, engineering, and math, learn more about last year's winners:

Could your school use a boost in technology? Are you looking for ways to excite your students about STEM education and show them that science matters in the real world?

The deadline for entry for phase 1 is October 31, 2014.

To view the complete official rules, please visit: https://www.samsung.com/us/solvefortomorrow/assets/pdfs/Samsung_Solve_for_Tomorrow_Official_Rules.pdf.



In an essay she wrote as part of a competition for a science scholarship offered by Bio-Rad Laboratories, this recent high school graduate and aspiring wildlife biologist evokes the spirit of John Muir as she describes her own passion for hands-on science and fieldwork.

Ashley Baughman, Bio-Rad Essay Contest Winner
Above: Ashley Baughman, recipient of the Ron Mardigian scholarship, awarded by Bio-Rad Laboratories, on a trip to Pinnacles National Monument where she and classmates studied the endangered California Condor.

For Ashley Baughman, doing and learning science means much more than sitting behind a school desk or even following a set of procedural steps to do a hands-on science experiment in the lab. For Ashley, doing science means being outdoors, in nature, and watching and documenting the natural world as it unfolds around her.

Ashley, a recent graduate of New Leaf: A Sustainable Living Collaborative, an alternative high school program in Martinez CA, described the evolution of her passion for environmental science and wildlife biology in an essay she wrote for an annual scholarship awarded by Bio-Rad Laboratories. Her essay, a poignant and compelling capturing of the value of getting immersively involved in science, won this year's Ron Mardigian Memorial Scholarship.

Today, Ashley is an advocate for hands-on science, but her level of interest and commitment—and her plans to continue her science studies in college—were really brought to life in high school. As a student at New Leaf, Ashley was exposed to new ways of viewing science and of conceptualizing her own involvement in science.

"I've always enjoyed being in nature, but science didn't peak my interest until I began going to school at New Leaf," says Ashley. At New Leaf, students get involved, right away. "My first outdoor science activity was actually my first day at school. We learned about a healthy, biodiverse creek vs. creeks crawling with invasive plants. That same afternoon my entire school went into the creek down the street from school, and with the help of the city and community members, we removed a huge patch of invasive Arundo."

For Ashley, that first lesson and time at the local creek was the beginning of a new and exciting journey. "I've done projects like planting native plants and removing invasive ones; created a bench of clay, sand, straw and water; and created a school garden." She also served as a student leader for both a rain water harvesting project and a wildlife biology internship.

In her essay, Ashley writes of her admiration for John Muir. "Muir is one of my main inspirations because of all the roles he played in one lifetime—a scientist, a naturalist, a botanist, a writer, an explorer," she says, noting that Muir not only did all those things but did many of them very well. As a student at New Leaf, Ashley had the opportunity to work with the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez on a weekly basis.

To students who are interested in science and nature but not sure how to get involved beyond the classroom, Ashley offers this advice: "Use the internet to find places in your community that do those things, go there, and see if they take eager-to-learn volunteers. If they don't, don't get discouraged. Ask that same place if they know of others who would take volunteers."

Here is the text of Ashley's award-winning essay:

      I look at science through an experiential lens. Last week I went into the hills of Fernandez Ranch, a publicly owned open space. Strapping our camera trap to the tree was electrifying. I've been learning to take note of the smaller odd details you wouldn't normally think twice about unless you were a biologist. Today i was paying attention to the tiny holes in the tree opposite of our camera that showed evidence of a Sap Sucker. The scat I noticed on the ground proved to be coyote because I've learned their diagnostic cues. Their scat is twisted at the end, and Coyotes use long trails to mark their territory. Hiking through the property, I can see how the amazing woodland, riparian, and chaparral ecosystems support a variety of wildlife. I've seen pictures from our camera traps from this spot before but I can't wait to be back there next week to see what else is connected. I believe real life experiences are needed to create interest and participation in science.

      The life and legacy of John Muir also inspires my participation in science. I appreciate how he inspired the next generation of scientists and other professionals to care about the world around them. Even though the world has changed and we lost some of our green space the next generation of citizen scientists like me can still use the resources at our National Parks as places for scientific inquiry. In order to interest others, social media can be used to inform the world about the fun of applying science in real life.

      John Muir is one of my heroes. He went from reading about science to immersing himself in it when he settled in Yosemite for six years. Observing nature through an experiential lens, Muir fell in love with Biology. While he was working in Yosemite he'd stuff his pockets with bits of nature like moss and bark to study in the evening. He liked to observe sprouting seeds through his hand lens (Wadsworth). Muir created drawings and took intricate notes of his observations. Muir published some of his notes in the New York Tribune December 1871 in an article entitled "Yosemite Glaciers" (Wadsworth). This was the first time he shared observations in a public forum. There would be many to follow. Muir generated enough interest in his studies that President Roosevelt wanted to experience first hand what Muir observed. In May of 1903, John Muir and President Roosevelt met in Yosemite, during Muir spoke about the critical need to protect the land (Wadsworth). As a result of Roosevelt and Muir's exploration, Roosevelt was convinced Yosemite needed to be protected, thus the National Park System was born. Currently there are a total of 518 places in the United States protected by the National Park Service (Park List). It is because of Muir's scientific passion and writing that my curiosity for science has grown and I believe that if more people knew about his life and legacy they would also be inspired to become citizen scientists. I now can enjoy science without being in a room with four walls. Of course, we can't all be John Muir, but we can follow in his footsteps finding ways to experience science in the natural world and innovatively share it with others.

      President Obama's Americas Great Outdoors Initiative has encouraged the National Park Service to bring young people into the outdoors. Because of this initiative, my school has a special relationship with the John Muir National Historic Site. My teachers and park ranger's work together to help me learn from these open and historical spaces. At school I've climbed up mountains and boulders, gone through caves that are the result of an ancient volcano, seen evidence of tidal erosion, and watched a bobcat cross the road. All these experiences keep me motivated to learn and study more about how life is connected. I even have friends that study the affects of the climate change on plant species with a Phenologist as part of their school day. Their interest was a direct result of a hands-on experience with science.

      Considering we are surrounded by science, finding real life applications for it is key to stimulating curiosity. For example, Kindergarten teachers can act as citizen scientists in the school garden by counting birds with students. Exploring the hill side near school and discovering a butterfly cocoon in a tree can begin a lesson on metamorphosis. Students can check the cocoon daily, have discussions, and see how it applies to their own body development! Students can observe pollinators and discuss how that leads to plant fertilization and plant germination. If young children can see that science is all around us, then it sparks interests.

      I've experienced first hand that working with professional scientists can also spark interest for older students. I have been working for two years with a Wildlife Biologist every Friday. I've found that whether I'm on 702 acres of preserved land or in my backyard, all kinds of life is encompassed around me. His mentorship which encouraged me to become a citizen scientist has inspired me to go to college. Through this hands-on experience, I've learned the basics of Wildlife Biology. Now I am seriously considering it as a career. Utilizing professionals that are willing to give back and support a younger generation will link students with real life science in ways that will inspire. Linking youth and professional mentors together is crucial because it brings science to life and takes it out of a text book.

      It's also crucial to use social media as a pathway to encourage people to share their stories and observations so more people may develop an interest in science. As of December 2012, there are more than a billion monthly users of Facebook. Through social media you can find people with common interests, have group discussions, and post photos and updates. Professionals on the other side of the world can be involved in or informed about a science experiment at any moment. The beauty of this information being online is that participants don't feel rushed and can have more satisfying and creative input. For example, individuals can post photos or videos capturing how science has applied to their real life and help people think differently about scientific investigation. Videos would need to be interesting, display passionate people, and clearly communicate the application of the study and how other individuals can apply it in their lives. It is important to put the video in the right place and participation will undoubtedly be built. For example, I am helping to lead a hike at Fernandez Ranch on Saturday May 18th as part of my Wildlife Biology internship. I will be able to show the group hiking all about our camera trap sites, and explain the data we've collected. Furthermore I could show how I've learned more about where I live by studying the wildlife in the surrounding area. I could post this on Pinterest.com, Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube. People can also learn about the hike on the Muir Heritage Land Trust Facebook page and website. Broadening the scope of outreach will assist more citizens in finding ways to utilize and enjoy science more.

      Weaving science into real life experiences provides the necessary elements to develop interest and participation in it. John Muir's life and legacy is there to inspire scientists just as it did me. Utilizing the open space at our National Parks as living laboratories will broaden people's outlook on scientific investigation creating more participation. Social media can be an effective tool to increase interest in science. All these factors generated my interest and participation in science.

Making Connections

Interested in how you and your family can get involved with outdoor science and how you can inspire and encourage your students to find the same fulfillment from being in nature that Ashley has discovered? See our recent post, "Calling Naturalists of All Ages: Citizen Science Projects for the Whole Family."

Science Buddies thanks Ashley for allowing us to share her essay on the Science Buddies website. We extend our congratulations to her, and we look forward to hearing about the path her continuing studies and work in wildlife biology takes!

Science Buddies Project Ideas in Biotechnology Techniques are sponsored by support from Bio-Rad Laboratories and its Biotechnology Explorer program.

Biotechnology Explorer



By Kim Mullin

The winners of the Rosalind Franklin Chemistry Contest, sponsored by Science Buddies and the Astellas USA Foundation, have been determined!


Rosalind Elsie Franklin was an important female chemist whose research using x-ray diffraction helped lead to the identification of the structure of DNA. Through this contest, Astellas hoped to inspire young scientists, and females in particular, to pursue chemistry research and careers.
Students Receive Honors

Students in grades 6-12 submitted chemistry, food science, or biotechnology projects of their own design or completed one from the Science Buddies library of Project Ideas. Judges were looking for projects exhibiting imagination, scientific thought, thoroughness, skill, and clarity.

The winning entries are as follows:

Female in Grades 6-8: Abigail G. Erickson, Grade 8, Virgil I Grissom Middle School Project: "The Effect of Water Temperature and pH on Seashell Decalcification"

Male in Grades 6-8: Matthew Early, Grade 6, Abraham Lincoln Elementary School Project: "Catalyst Eases Hydrogen's Break From Water"

Female in Grades 9-12: Suchita Nety, Grade 11, The Harker School Project: "Investigation of Synthetic Bioadhesive Hydrogels for Internal Medical Use"

Male in Grades 9-12: Joseph Le Grade, Grade 11 and Alberto Diaz, Grade 12, Oak Grove High School Project: "Super Hydrophobicity"

Judges "Thrilled" with High Caliber of Student Projects

The contest submissions were judged by a team of Science Buddies staff members and volunteers, including Donna Hardy of Bio-Rad Laboratories; Andrew Bonham, Assistant Professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver; Kierstyn Schwartz, a graduate student at the University of Chicago; and David Bateman, Professor of Chemistry at Henderson State University.

Commenting on the entries, Sandra Slutz, Science Buddies' lead scientist, said, "I am thrilled at the high caliber of the chemistry projects we received. Across the board, it is clear that the students worked hard, spent time researching the topics, and really stuck with their projects even when they encountered experimental problems and had to troubleshoot or even start over."

Bonham, who reviewed submissions in the Grades 9-12 category, agreed, saying, "I was truly impressed by the quality of the submissions to this contest—both in terms of content and presentation. If I hadn't been told beforehand that these were submissions from high school students, I honestly would have assumed this was undergraduate research by junior or senior level students." Donna Hardy, a volunteer Expert in Science Buddies' Ask an Expert forums, who has assisted students with a wide range of science projects over the past few years, including many working on ISEF-level research, also expressed her high opinion of the entries and the caliber of chemistry displayed.

Contest Inspires and Encourages Future Scientists

When the contest was announced in early February, Collette Taylor, president of the Astellas USA Foundation, pointed out that, "The future of scientific innovation in health and medicine resides in our youth," and was certain that she would not be disappointed by the contest entries. Slutz feels that the entries met Taylor's expectations, saying, "The 9-12 category projects were particularly impressive. There were a number of students working on innovative, original, university-level research ranging from creating and analyzing new medical glues (like Dermabond) to working on the synthesis of new nanoparticles for eventual use in miniaturized electrical circuitry."

Science Buddies and Astellas are proud to have sponsored such a successful competition. Said judge Schwartz, "These projects had an impressive level of creativity and scientific thought. The students should be very proud of what they have accomplished."

Congratulations to the winners and to all who entered!



"Elemental" Essay Contest

Int_year_chemistry_Pantone_C_thumbnail.pngWhat's your Periodic Table style?

Do you like things:

  • light (He)?

  • with a bit of patina (Cu)?

  • on the salty side (Na)?

  • noxious (N)?

  • fire-retardant (Br)?

  • metallic (In)?

  • radioactive (Pu)?

With 118 elements on the Periodic Table, there is something for everyone and plenty of chemical reactions to go around. If you have something to say about one of the six elements listed above, you should put your thoughts on paper and enter Nature Chemistry's essay competition, part of the International Year of Chemistry.

Each issue of Nature Chemistry includes a back-page essay called "In Your Element." Students (and recent graduates) are invited to enter the essay competition by writing a 700-800 word essay, in the style of an "In Your Element" article, on one of these elements: helium, nitrogen, sodium, copper, bromine, indium or plutonium.
Even student scientists can wax poetic (AKA "write with feeling"), especially when it comes to the properties of a favorite, or critical, or pervasive, or transparent, or explosive, or notorious element. What do you have to say? To get a feel for the tone and style of "In Your Element" articles, check out Ken Wade's "Bonding with boron." The "In Your Element" on the back page of the current issue of Nature Chemistry is titled: "W for tungsten and wolfram."

The deadline for entries is August 1, 2011. For complete rules and submission information, visit: http://www.nature.com/nchem/iyeessay/index.html





Share Your Science Project Experience and Be Entered in Our iTunes Giveaway

We are giving away iTunes gift cards!

Students who completed one of the projects below could win one of ten $50 iTunes gift cards! To enter our random drawing, students need to complete the following steps by March 21: 

    1. Make sure you have a free Science Buddies account. (To register for a free Science Buddies account, sign up here.) 

    2. Click the link below for the project you did.

    3. Sign in to your Science Buddies account. 

    4. Complete the "I Did this Project" form. (Note: to be entered in the giveaway, you must upload a photo when completing the form. Your photo can be of your project display board or a photo from the experiment itself. Stock photos will not be considered.)

    5. Look for the list of winners in our April newsletter!  


(Note: Contest open to U.S., K-12 students. Entries will be verified and follow-up questions regarding the project may be asked. Authentic photo from student's project is required. Entries accepted until March 21, 2011.)



Video Contest for Gamers

AMD and the Learning Games Network have teamed up to run a cool contest for video gamers who can turn on a video camera and capture in digital frames the educational underpinnings of video gaming.

Sure, video games can be lots of fun, but with the contest, AMD and the Learning Games Network hope to underscore the ways in which connections are made, educational skills advanced and put into action, and learning continued... while playing.

With entries being accepted in both the "My 'Aha' Moment" and "My Dream Assignment" categories, contest sponsors are giving students a chance to "tell their stories and share their ideas on how education can and will change with digital games."

First place winners will receive HP Pavilion notebooks, powered by an AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile Processor ZM-84.

The contest is open to current US students 13 and older. Entries must be between 2 and 3 minutes in length. The deadline for entry is May 31, 2009. For complete contest details, rules, and regulations, please visit http://www.aha-moment.org.


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