Boulder County students present research at regional science fair at University of Colorado

Fairview High junior Maddie Nagle became interested in the issue of radiation at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge after hearing the public outcry when the site was opened to the public.

As she researched the history of Rocky Flats and concerns about lingering plutonium, she said she didn‘t find peer-reviewed studies with good data.

“As scientific facts become weaponized, I thought it would be important to take a step back and take an objective look,” she said.

Using the east Boulder Creek trail for comparison, she took soil samples both there and along the main Rocky Flats trail — hiking eight miles in and out after the government shutdown closed the main entrance.

Using a specialized geiger counter from the University of Colorado to ensure accuracy, she found the average radiation levels along the Rocky Flats trail were the same as those on the east Boulder Creek trail. The levels also were far below those in a sample of radioactive soil at CU.

Nagle was one of about 220 local middle and high school students from 19 schools who competed Wednesday in the annual Corden Pharma Colorado Regional Science Fair at CU.

This is the 15th year Corden Pharma has partnered with the Boulder Valley School District to sponsor the science fair.

Students presented their original, independent projects to a team of almost 125 judges, including CU doctoral candidates and professors and local scientists. Many of the judges come back every year.

“It almost restores my faith in humanity,” said Rachel Glade, a CU geology doctorate student who is in her fourth year as a judge. “The students are so interested and excited about science. It‘s important to support them.”

Top science fair performers were invited to an awards ceremony at 5:30 p.m. today at Southern Hills Middle School.

Thirty-four projects will move on to the Colorado Engineering and Science Fair in April in Fort Collins, and three projects will be selected for the International Science and Engineering Fair in May in Phoenix.

At the middle school level, about 75 students from seven Boulder Valley schools, a St. Vrain Valley charter school and three private schools participated.

James O‘Hara, a sixth-grader at Longmont‘s Flagstaff Academy, built a shirt- folding robot based on his mom‘s view that “the chore of laundry is the worst.”

Plus, he said, robotics and programming is his passion.

He programmed a Raspberry Pi computer system to move the plexiglass pieces that fold the shirt, assembling a circuit board with a soldering iron and learning to use power tools to build the rest.

“I learned a lot,” he said, noting he has many ideas for modifications to improve his creation. “It‘s still the prototype phase.”

Summit Middle School eighth-grader Arianne Flaherty didn‘t get the results she was expecting in her project on the effect of fire on soil nutrient content, but said that didn‘t dim her love of science.

“I was still cool to learn about it,” she said. “I love researching and learning about what other people research.”

Broomfield Heights seventh-grader Ethan Dorman designed different wings for a model airplane to determine if wing type affects flight distance, 3D printing the plane and wings and building a launch device.

“I really like to build and design different things,” he said. “I really like aerospace engineering and wanted to focus more on something I want to do in the future. I found out how actual airplanes fly.”

About 90 percent of the high school students competing at the regional fair are either enrolled in the Boulder Valley School District‘s science research seminar class or have taken it in the past. Students in the engineering program at Centaurus High School also entered projects.

Centaurus seniors Katharine MacDonald and Jessica Handwerker built a swamp cooler car window insert to solve the problem of pets overheating.

The system is powered mainly by solar panels and built of reused, recycled or repurposed materials, they said, adding they have lots of ideas for improving their basic model.

“We got to do this all on our own,” MacDonald said. “It was self-led work.”