The premier annual science and engineering competition for Georgia middle and high schoolers was quickly transitioned to an online judging format for 2020 because of growing concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Normally, the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair is held at the Classic Center in downtown Athens, with about 750 students and hundreds of judges and volunteers in attendance.
Despite the major changes to the format of presentations and judging, 593 students from across the state participated in the online competition by recording videos of their projects and uploading their supporting materials. Spread out over several weeks, more than 200 judges evaluated the senior division projects in late March and junior division projects in early April. Finalists were judged in additional rounds, and 225 students were awarded nearly $25,000 in prizes. This year’s main event sponsor was Burns & McDonnell, with individual awards sponsored by a host of organizations.
The fair is a program of the Office of Academic Special Programs, which is part of the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel. Every year, thousands of students compete in local science fairs across the state. The winners are invited to compete in one of the GSEF-affiliated regional fairs, and the top projects from each regional fair are invited to attend and compete at GSEF.
“This year’s exhibitors have demonstrated exceptional skill, creativity and perseverance in the face of uncertainty,” said Laura Brewer, fair director and program coordinator in the Office of Academic Special Programs at the Georgia Center. “Many of them are already developing technologies and discovering solutions that will be critical to overcoming global challenges, and all have made great strides toward bettering our world. This is a testament to not only the students’ talents and hard work, but also to the support provided by their parents, mentors, teachers and fair directors.”
Students who opted-in to display their projects publicly are highlighted on the GSEF Showcase website. The top awards include:
- Pinnacle Award: “Identification of Auditory Biomarkers for Neurological Disorders” by Shreya Ramesh, a student at Milton High School, Fulton County;
- Junior Division Pinnacle Award: “How Clean Are Stethoscopes?” by Rachel Dressler, a student at Chamblee Middle School, DeKalb County.
In addition to the Pinnacle Awards, Georgia Science and Engineering Fair Regeneron ISEF Awards were presented to the following four projects:
- “The Amazing MYO” by Yashua Evans, Union Grove High School, Henry County;
- “RadioWrite: Rapid Machine Learning Approach to Radiology Analysis” by Krishi Kishore, Lambert High School, Forsyth County;
- “3D Printing Hierarchical Porous Glassy Carbon for Supercapacitors” by Howard Hua, Wheeler High School, Cobb County; and
- “Detecting and Imaging TNB Cancer Using Perovskite Quantum Dots” by Vinod Ruppa-Kasani, Chattahoochee High School, Fulton County.
Although the 2020 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair competition has been canceled, these students will still be honored by the Society for Science & the Public as ISEF finalists. To view the GSEF Showcase, visit https://sites.google.com/prod/view/gsef2020showcase. The Showcase site, which includes student project videos, will be viewable through May 31, 2020.
Other notable awards from this year’s fair include:
- Rebecca Winters, a student at Bonaire Middle School in Houston County, and Ella Dommert, a student at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science & Technology in Gwinnett County, each won the Georgia Aquarium Conservation Award for their projects, “Biogas: From Trash to Gas,” and “Oil Adsorption Capacities of Organic Materials,” respectively. The students will each receive two tickets to the Georgia Aquarium, a behind-the-scenes tour and a job-shadowing opportunity. Dommert recently also won first place in the Georgia Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium, held at the Georgia Center in February, and third place in the national symposium, held online in late April.
- A new award was sponsored by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. Cash awards went to first, second and third place projects in both the Junior and Senior divisions and ranged from $50 to $250 each.
- The U.S. Agency for International Development also sponsored a new award that recognizes projects that have the potential to significantly impact the lives of people around the world. The three recipients are Ana Carvalho, Jenkins High School, Chatham County, for “Zeolite Based Water Generation”; Candy Zheng, Rockdale Magnet School, Rockdale County, for her work on “Pathways to Educational Equality in China”; and Arnav Jain, Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science & Technology, Gwinnett County, for “The Intelligent Medical Stapler: Ending the Emergency Room Crisis.”
- Kevin Davoud, Statesboro High School in Bulloch County, and Parvati Menon, Lambert High School in Forsyth County, were awarded the UGA Charter Scholarship, a renewable $2,000 annual scholarship for students attending the University of Georgia.
All of the 2020 awards are listed on the GSEF website: https://www.georgiacenter.uga.edu/sites/default/files/gsef-2020-announcement-awards.pdf