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CPS Citywide Science Fair Showcases Students' Smarts

By Quinn Ford | March 23, 2014 8:38am | Updated on March 23, 2014 10:52am
 Students from around the city competed this weekend at the 64th annual CPS Science Fair in Hyde Park.
CPS Citywide Science Fair
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HYDE PARK — Seventh-grader Adyn Pence has been drinking more coconut water lately.

Adyn plays soccer and basketball and needs the electrolytes, he said.

The Audubon Elementary student used to depend on Gatorade, but not anymore.

"My dad told me not to drink Gatorade because it has so much sugar, but it tastes a lot better than coconut water," he said.

For his school science fair project, the seventh grader decided to compare the electrolytes in orange juice, coconut water and a number of sports drinks. Coconut water came out on top. Orange juice came in second. Gatorade came in an unimpressive fourth place.

"I was pretty astonished," Pence said.

Others must have been too because Pence won his school and regional science fairs to make it into Chicago Public School's 64th annual city-wide science fair held this weekend at the Museum of Science and Industry.

About 300 middle school and high school students displayed their work at the museum beginning Friday. Of those competing, up to 75 students will be chosen Sunday to move on to the state science fair.

Students in grades seven through 12 can compete for those 75 spots, but the event is about more than just competition, said Luba Johnson, the fair's director. Johnson said CPS's science fair is about fostering interest in math, science and engineering and encouraging students to do research of their own.

"Every year it gets better...and it amazes me," Johnson said. "We have great kids in Chicago, and we have great CPS students who do great work, and we're here to showcase that."

Douglass High School freshman Markal Holt said he was inspired to research subliminal messaging after he saw an advertisement at the movies that claimed eating popcorn leads to weight loss.

Holt said he decided to run an experiment.

"I used M&Ms because everyone likes M&Ms," he said.

Holt created a music beat that contained a message to eat orange M&Ms. He ran the beat containing the message for one group while they ate the candy, and he played a beat without the message for a second group. He found the group with the subliminal message ate far more orange M&Ms than any other color. The group who did not hear the message ate M&Ms of all colors about equally.

The freshman said the project gave him an opportunity outside of the classroom to study science, his favorite subject.

And Holt, who said he's is deciding between pursuing a career in science or with the FBI, was modest about his prospects of moving on to the state competition.

"I think I got a chance to win," he said with a smile.

At the state science fair, four Chicago students will be chosen to move on and compete at the International Science Engineering Fair held in May in Los Angeles.

About 300 judges from the local academic and business communities evaluate the student's projects and pick the winners.

Venkat Nikeetha Chikkala, a junior at Von Steuben High School, said her project explored ways to efficiently clean up oil spills, and Chikkala had the chance to explain her research to a representative from BP America, one of the fair's sponsors, on Saturday morning.

"He asked me what inspired me, and I was like 'The BP oil spill!'" she said. "He had a smile on his face, so I'm guessing that was a good sign."

William Harper, a sophomore at Lane Tech High School, said getting to interact with actual professionals was the most valuable part of the fair.

"There's so much payoff...This is a real-world environment to me because I get to talk to judges who know exactly what I'm saying," Harper said. "I get to talk to people who shake my hand and give me their business card, and to me that's better than any education I can get at a school."

Harper researched how to make charging electronics remotely more efficient. The sophomore said getting to the city-wide competition was not easy. Students worked on their projects outside of class, leading to a lot of "late nights at OfficeMax" he said.

But Harper, who plans to follow in his dad's footsteps and study mechanical engineering, said this is the kind of work he wants to do.

"I've always been — since I was a little kid — just interested in how things work and why they're working that way."