Fair will be held Feb. 8 at Christopher High

Two 2019 Science Fair participants display their project that compared visual memory to auditory memory.
Photo by Marty Cheek

By Marty Cheek

The next South Valley Science and Engineering Fair is half a year away. With the opening of the new school year, organizers encourage students, parents and teachers to begin to consider projects.

The fair will be held Feb. 8 at Christopher High School in Gilroy.

“We want to encourage all our local kids to start the process of thinking about projects for the fair,” said Susan Oldham-Fritts, the fair’s manager. “We want all students to participate with a project, whether or not science is something they want to go into as a profession. Science helps develop their critical thinking skills, which is something we all need.”

The Synopsis Science Fair, which is open to all students in Santa Clara County, is one of the most successful in the country. The South Valley Science and Engineering Fair, which is open to students living in the Morgan Hill and Gilroy school district areas, can serve as a gateway for aspiring young scientists and engineers to enter that prestigious event.

“With our (local) science fair we have two goals,” Oldham-Fritts said. “We’re looking at teaching critical thinking and also encouraging the practice of using the scientific method and investigation. For those kids who are interested, we will mentor them to go on to the (Synopsis Fair). But our fair really is for everybody. It’s not just for the science geeks and the engineering geeks.”

To help stimulate the mind with possible ideas, fair organizers will offer several free “pre-project clinics” for students and teachers in the next two months to help them learn about the process of using the scientific method for hands-on experimenting in the five categories that will be judged by professional scientists and engineers: Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Math/Computer Science, and Physics.

The following clinics will be held at Anaerobe Systems, located at 15906 Concord Circle in Morgan Hill. Each clinic goes from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and includes a facilities tour and brief discussion of their SVSEF mentoring program:

  • Teacher clinic Sept. 17 (to discuss the process of going through the fair’s application process)
  • Engineering projects clinic for students/parents Sept. 25
  • Science projects clinic for students/parents Oct. 9

While primarily for students and their families, teachers will also benefit from the science and engineering projects clinics. The teacher clinics are interactive, so participants are encouraged to bring laptops or another digital device.

Gilroy Life file photo
Ben Hayes, a then Britton Middle School eighth grader, shows off his biology science fair project looking at insect life and water flow on Llagas Creek at the 2019 fair.

A date and a location for a Teachers Clinic in Gilroy will be announced later. The organizers are also working on getting another program to encourage engineering projects. This is called the Super School in South County workshop and it will be held on  a future weekend.

SVSEF will also present at 3 p.m. Nov. 2 a free viewing at the Morgan Hill Library of the documentary film “Inventing Tomorrow.” The movie is about student scientists doing research and presenting their work at the International Science and Engineering Fair.

The early submission deadline for SVSEF project applications is Nov. 1. The final deadline for project applications is Jan. 8, 2020. After that date, no projects will be accepted. All project ideas need to be approved by a safety/science review before the student can begin work, so the fair organizers recommend getting this done as early as possible to give students enough time to do their project.

Science is a process of discovering through the method of experimenting and data gathering and analysis and it can be fun for students when they learn the scientific method by doing a project “hands-on,” Oldham-Fritts said. The students who participate in the fair will also meet judges who have trained and worked in engineering and the science fields, thus learning from them about a future career opportunities.

“Our judges are professionals in their fields, so if you’re doing physics, you’ll be talking to a physicist. If you’re doing chemistry, you’ll be talking to a chemist or a chemical engineer, which you frequently do not see at our level of fair,” Oldham-Fritts said.

Many professionals in science and engineering participated in their own school district’s science fairs when they were young, she said.

“That’s another advantage of participating in our science fair. You’ll be meeting people in the science profession and share the excitement of the people who work in science and get a positive feedback and ask questions,” she said.

Students attending science fairs also learn from each other’s projects, she said.

The science fair has evolved over the years from a small fair of 18 exhibits started by the Pauchon Research Foundation to celebrate Earth Day to a much more in-depth event for the entire South Valley with prizes for the best projects in various category.

Students will also have opportunities to get materials for their projects including the poster boards for their presentation to the judges.

“We want to have a structure that supports our kids and mentors our kids because over at least the past decade very few kids from Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy have done well in the Synopsis Championship, which is the county level competition,” Oldham-Fritts said.

“Our kids are as good as the other kids in the county,” she said. “They have wonderful ideas, so why should we not have them participate because we don’t have the preparation the other communities have had for the past few years?”

Marty Cheek