Eco Science Fair cultivates solutions

By Cadyn Waxingmoon, ECI intern

Winners in the youngest category: Ayush, Molly and Nya

Winners in the youngest category: Ayush, Molly and Nya

Biking through downtown Indianapolis during the morning rush is not my usually my cup of tea. On this unforgivingly windy day though, I was motivated by thoughts of my destination: the Indiana State Museum. I had not been there in what felt like an eternity, but I remembered fondly the wanderlust that it had imprinted on my child's mind in a simpler time. Today I was playing the part of an adult. Upon arriving, I made sure to stop and take in the beautiful art of Watanabe Garden, wedged between the Eiteljorg and the State Museum. After chaining my bike to the rack outside, I entered the museum already anticipating the day’s events. This would not be a day to peruse the museum's exhibits, today was the Eco Science Fair.

To be truthful, not many people get as excited as I do about an annual science fair. But I had participated in the event a few times - even winning first place one year - and I knew I would find at least one awe-inspiring project. Meeting up with the rest of the Earth Charter Indiana team, we went over the day’s schedule and I was introduced to one of the panels of judges. I asked to tag along with the three person judging panel and after viewing one row of projects they decided it would be best to split up. I went with the woman who had been assigned the last three rows. The work we found there was remarkable.

The first student we spoke with had made several types of plastic in the hopes of finding a biodegradable, yet strong, material. He found that the strongest and easiest to dissolve plastic was made with xanthan gum. This project not only looked fun to make, it also could solve the problem of landfills and oceans full of toxic plastic that takes thousands of years to decompose.

Ahan Bhattacharyya

Ahan Bhattacharyya

Moving on, we met with a young boy named Ayush Bhattacharyya. He was wearing a cape and asserting his disapproval of plastic straws, as well as providing insight about reusable straws. Next, his older brother, Ahan Bhattacharyya, had a project that revolved around educating others about the horrors of plastic. He urged us the CHANGE: Carry your own water bottle, Hesitate to use styrofoam, Avoid plastic grocery bags, say No to straws, Grab your own silverware, and finally, to Eliminate K-cups. This project not only has a wonderful methodology, there is also plenty of real work being done. Ahan has started a petition to ask McDonald’s to switch to biodegradable straws. He is also asking local restaurants to serve plastic straws only upon customer request. Many other projects which promised to inspire lined the isles, but it was time for me to check back in with my group.

I spent the next few hours working the Earth Charter table, until an announcement was made for the Subaru finalists to return to their projects for further judging. At this time Jim Poyser introduced me to Jake Martin and Amanda Wilson, high schoolers who had put a lot of work into their innovative projects. Amanda showed me the tests she had done to see if a certain fungus would fend off bugs and benefit plants. Jake walked me through his ground-breaking ideas on how to protect soybean crops from flood waters. Since Jake's project had such wonderful potential to be applied in Indiana agriculture, he had been talking to Jim about sharing his concept with the world. I assured him that if anyone had the connections to do so, it would be Jim.

Amanda Wilson presents to the Community Impact judging panel.

Amanda Wilson presents to the Community Impact judging panel.

The time for winners to be announced was drawing close, but returning to the judges I had met earlier, I found they were having a small crisis. There was one panel of judges for each competition category, every panel had decided on their winners except them. I smiled, knowing that there were so many wonderful students they couldn't choose. I was soon shuffled into an auditorium full of restless kids awaiting the verdict. I got to spend a few minutes getting to know the people sitting next to me, but finally a woman strode on to the stage and began the awards ceremony.

Subaru has been a part on the science fair for years, and they always play a video explaining the steps Subaru has taken to become a waste free company. Subaru has not thrown anything away Since 2004. After the video, the first category to be announced was K-4 individual projects,  the first place winner of which was Molly McGrath, a 5 year old who made a poster about reusable shopping bags. Ayush Bhattacharyya, the boy against straws, came in second. In third was Nya Wright, who had made a presentation about wind energy.

5-8th grade individual was won by Marcela Rosales-Harms, followed by Ahan Bhattacharyya in second and Conner Sallee in third. The group category of 5-8’s winners were as follows:

1st: Vincent Uccello, Mallory Gentry, Dalila Butler and Nelen Thompson
2nd: Jaidyn Lindsey, Ella Bayha, Erin Woods and Sydney Settles
3rd: Sebastian Brown, Mateo Jose Soria, Marissa Baker and Ethan Logan.

The first place individual 9-12th grader was Levi Hrabos, who found an organism that could decompose dead matter in radioactive areas. Second and third place went to previously mentioned Amanda Wilson and Jake Martin. The 9-12th grade group winners were:

1st: Nathaniel Oliver and Bryton Doran
2nd: Sumaya Mohamed and Suuban Mohamed
3rd: Logan Motley and Klarissa DiGuilio.

This year the science fair had two new categories, the first of which was video submissions, which was only open to 9-12th graders. There were only two winning groups, David Richardson in first place and Delia Novak and Amanda Eades in second. The last category, my personal favorite and the category my friends on the indecisive panel were in charge of, was Community Impact. The first place winner of this category was Ahan Bhattacharyya, the boy with the CHANGE method. Next was Jake Martin followed by Amanda Wilson, who both have projects that could help real-world agriculture.

After the awards, there was nothing left to do but watch as children packed up their projects and headed home. Saying my goodbyes as the science fair was being dismantled around me, I reflected on what had happened here today. The eco science fair is an annual event for youth who want to make an impact on the world around them. Although winning is incentivized with prize money, competition is never the goal. The purpose is cultivating ideas and helping them grow and inspire others.