Sarasota County students had the opportunity to shine at the 2018 STEM Fair Expo.
Robards Arena was bursting with proud students, their families and more than 600 tri-fold display boards for the STEM Fair Expo on Jan. 31.
11th grade Sarasota High School student Bella Brush, for example, was among the hundreds of students who wandered the rows of boards with her parents, looking curiously to see what other students had researched.
Brush herself, though, had launched forward with "Measuring the effect of gene silencing on lipid yield in spirulina platensis."
“It helps research into renewable resources,” Brush said. “I’m interested in environmental engineering and especially the renewable resources.”
Nearby, her father commented on the complexity of her project.
“She lost me on the first turn,” he laughed. “I just started reading it and I said, ‘Holy moly!’ ”
The Sarasota County STEM Fair is an annual school event that provides the opportunity for students to apply the scientific method to concerns or questions of their choice.
First, participants who are in grades 3 through 12 compete at the school level. Then, the top 18 projects from each school come to the STEM Fair Expo where the elementary school projects are on display and the middle and high school projects compete for the opportunity to advance to statewide competition.
“[The Expo] has become my favorite part of the STEM Fair,” said Bev Stancel, one of three co-directors of the STEM Fair. “We’ve kind of gone away from having a family night and this year we decided to implement it again. And the response has been happy faces and we have vendors here tonight who are making it an even better experience for the families.”
Projects themselves showed a wide variety of topics, ranging from "Will flaps on a paper airplane effect how far it flies?" to "Solar-powered salt removal."
Many students chose to gravitate toward their personal interests.
For instance, fifth grade Hendrix Nunnery, who attends Fruitville Elementary says he has an interest in sculpting. As a result, when it came time to decide on his project, he chose to explore "What happens to different types of clay at different temperatures?"
“I chose to do this project because, like many clay sculptors, I am one myself. I am actually very much an artist,” he said. “And I decided, ‘Hey, might as well do something that I love,’ as they say. So, I decided to do clay at different temperatures. And I even found out some new modeling techniques.”
Vendors were also present to entertain and teach students and families.
Tracy Calla from Selby Gardens played Jenga with kids to teach them “how a rainforest ecosystem is like Jenga.” Jordan Miller and Kaelyn Dobson represented the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, holding a snake and a rabbit that kids could pet while they learned more about the site.
For most of the evening, though, parents beamed as their young students stood by their projects, proudly explaining their hypotheses, processes and conclusions. Cookies, K’Nex and cool games aside, the excited chatter was what was truly infectious about the Expo.
“It’s really cool to talk to a third-grader who’s 8 years old and they spout science to you,” Stancel said. “It’s just... oh my gosh!”
The winners of the middle and high school STEM Fair projects are expected to be announced by Feb. 5.