About 75 experiments were exhibited in physics, engineering, math, biology and chemistry
By Marty Cheek
Solorsano Middle School 8th-grader Aryan Ganesh set a goal for himself to one day find a way using natural ingredients to prevent and even cure cancer. At the South Valley Science and Engineering Fair held Feb. 8 at Christopher High School, he showed he might be on the path to achieving his dream.
The 11-year-old Gilroy resident’s project was titled “Study and Comparison of Effects of Different Natural Products that Can Cure or Prevent Cancer Using Drosophila Model.”
Using various herbs including cinnamon, sesame seeds, moringa and (this being Gilroy) garlic, he gave dosages to wild flies larvae. He determined which adult flies had cancer by looking through a high-powered microscope and noting a blurriness in their eyes. The flies that had the least cancer rate were those exposed to a combination of moringa and sesame seeds, he found.
“I tried to cure cancer but I couldn’t,” Ganesh said. “And also, I knew that these natural products are painless. When you eat them, they might be disgusting, but they’re better than going through chemotherapy.”
The mothers of two of his friends had died of cancer. They had undergone the pain of chemotherapy. That inspired him to enter a project in the SVSEF, an experiment with natural ingredients that might serve as an alternative treatment. His efforts won him a first-place trophy in the middle school biology category.
“I wanted to enter this science fair because my friend wanted to get into the fair but his mother died,” Ganesh said. “I could show him, I won this trophy, it’s all because of you.”
Gilroy resident Ernie Olivares, a member of the science fair committee, was glad to see Christopher High School playing host to the event, which was held in the large gym. About 75 projects were exhibited in physics, engineering, math, chemistry, and biology categories. Six projects were entered by Gilroy students and the others came from Morgan Hill public schools as well as Oakwood School.
“They call it the South Valley Science and Engineering Fair and Gilroy is an integral part of that community,” he said. “And over the last couple of years, they’ve struggled to get the Gilroy students involved and participating by entering projects to the fair. One idea was to change on an alternating basis the location from Morgan Hill to Gilroy. So this is a great exposure to Gilroy.”
Olivares sees the SVSEF as an opportunity for students to learn about the scientific method to sharpen their critical thinking skills. Taking a tour of the various projects and chatting with the students, he was impressed with their knowledge and level of research. He wants to see it grow to 20 projects from Gilroy students next year and believes encouraging more parental involvement will make that goal achievable.
“Especially at the middle school age, the parental support and involvement in building the project and directing and guiding the student is critical,” he said. “Their support is definitely an important part of the process.”
Lydia Sattler, an 11th-grade Oakwood student and San Martin resident, won first place in the high school biology category with her fair project titled “A Comparative Analysis of Llagas Creek Soil.” Seeing the creek flood in winter, she wondered if the water added to the soil’s quality to promote plant growth.
“I did an experiment that examines the quality along the Llagas Creek soil at different elevations and locations to determine any influencing factors and variations of soil quality,” she said. “Those influencing factors could either be natural or anthropogenic, which is caused by humankind, pesticides and fertilizers since we are in the agricultural area.”
Sattler’s hypothesis was that soil closest to the creek would be more fertile — more nutritious with chemicals plants need — compared to the soil farther away from the creek which would be less fertile. She took nine soil samples along the creek and on top of the hill, digging a foot deep into the ground to get an accurate representation. She then used a chemical test kit for Ph levels, potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen levels.
She found her hypothesis was incorrect. “The results showed soil closest to the creek were less nutritious because of the leeching of the water,” she said. “The soils farther away were more nutritious.”
The scientific method is a good way to test whether an idea about how nature works is true or not, she said.
“Science fair is a way to learn and to grow,” she said. “It’s a way to learn about something in our community that you might be interested in. Everything that you do is related to science. It impacts our quality of life.”
Cathy Xu, a 10th-grader at Oakwood, is interested in engineering stability in homes built in areas prone to earthquakes. Her science fair project did a comparative analysis of different types of tall and short buildings and their efficiency in mitigating earthquake energy.
“Basically, I have my earthquake shake table and I have two types of houses,” she said. “I put them on the table and shake it to see if high-rise houses resist earthquakes better than low-rise houses.”
She found she built her houses too strong so despite their height they didn’t collapse when she started the earthquake table.
“The reason I test this is because California has a lot of earthquakes, and I used this fact to build this project to see why we have so many low rise houses in California,” she said. “There is a reason we have low-rise buildings — because it’s safer.”
The fair is not so much about winning a trophy as it is about the joy of discovering new knowledge, she said.
“For me, it’s not so important to be judged and stuff. It’s that I’m building stuff and the most fun part is to test it and see if it stand or falls and I can learn from that,” she said. “The experience is the most important part of all. I encourage students to come to science fair because they can get a unique experience.”
A team of two 8th-grade students from Britton Middle School in Morgan Hill entered a project titled “Airflow by Means of High Voltage” in the engineering category. Carson Malan and Josh Cook built a small ion engine to demonstrate that electricity can push air molecules without the need for a moving part like a propeller.
“We learned a lot about electricity and how positive ions work together to produce different results,” Malan said.
The ion engine concept is being tested by scientists and could have practical benefits in the future, Cook said.
“Basically, it’s creating airflow with no moving parts because moving parts wear down all the time. This stuff is used at NASA for satellites,” he said. “They did a test with one and it lasted five years continuously running. This would also be good for high or extreme heat or environments where a normal fan would not work well.”
Susan Oldham-Fritts served as the manager of the science fair and was impressed with Christopher High School’s involvement in this year’s event, the first time a Gilroy school has served as the venue.
“The facility was wonderful. We had certainly a lot of interest and excitement from the parents and the students who participated,” she said. “We also had a great team with Christopher High School’s administration and (Superintendent) Dr. Debbi Flores supporting us.”
As a thank you to Christopher for hosting the fair, Bullet Wireless presented the school with a high-powered microscope worth about $5,000 that can connect to a projector so teachers can show the entire class the tiny world of microbes, she said.
The winners in all categories at this year’s SVSEF can apply for the Synopsis Championship, which will be held March 11-12 at the McEnery Convention Center in downtown San Jose, she said. This is the county-wide science fair. It provides prizes including major scholarships and internships for high schoolers at Silicon Valley companies.
This year’s fair had about half as many participants as the 2019 science fair, which was held at Britton Middle School. There were various reasons, Oldham-Fritts said. One included the fact that the popular behavioral science category was eliminated. This was also the first time the fair was held on a Saturday so students had scheduling conflicts with sports and other events. A number of students also decided to not attend at the last minute because of the coronavirus warnings in the media to stay away from large group events, Oldham-Fritts said.
Next year’s SVSEF will be held in February at Martin Murphy Middle School and the 2022 fair will return to Gilroy. Oldham-Fritts encourages parents in the South Valley to get involved with the fair as volunteers. Organizers will reach out to home and school clubs to let them know how students can benefit from entering science projects.
“There are a lot of opportunities for the kids and there really is no burden for the teacher,” she said. “We’re trying to open up opportunities for our kids because they don’t tend to go to the higher level fairs like Synopsis, which has many opportunities for the kids. Our kids are just as smart and just as creative as the ones in Palo Alto and Mountain View and San Jose. So it’s not all about socio-economics.”