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Los Angeles County Science Fair goes beyond amateur

It's not uncommon for students to come away with patents or summer jobs, like one Palos Verdes student who designed a system to power household devices wirelessly.

April 01, 2012|By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times
  • Annette Lee, 8, chased by twin sister Jennifer, tests out a Solar Trike by Cal State L.A. at the 62nd annual Los Angeles County Science Fair.
Annette Lee, 8, chased by twin sister Jennifer, tests out a Solar Trike by… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

The rows of experiments at the Los Angeles County Science Fair began with a simple question: Is a dog's mouth cleaner than a human's?

Answer: It isn't.

How about this: Is the closest living relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex a chicken?

Not quite. It's the red junglefowl, a wild chicken.

Or: Could a sixth-grader build a hovercraft?

He could, capable of carrying both him and his mother. But he couldn't figure out how to propel his creation. "I read that some fire extinguishers would work," he wrote, "but my parents wouldn't let me try."

These results and many others were presented by more than 1,000 young scientists whose work for the 62nd annual science fair was on display at the Pasadena Convention Center on Saturday. Walking through the hall, the first exhibits were offered on tri-fold poster board by middle-school students.

One seventh-grader's project might pass as cardiology: "Can the attractiveness of an actor be determined by the heartbeat of his beholder?"

Anna Livia Brady from St. Monica Academy compared girls' heartbeats when looking at photos of teen heartthrobs Justin Bieber and Josh Hutcherson. Her findings: "Most girls, as I predicted, admire Josh Hutcherson more than Justin Bieber as evidenced by their heart rate.... I guess this makes Josh Hutcherson the most adored star."

Walking deeper into the hall, visitors encountered high school entrants and a more sophisticated level of science, which is why it's not uncommon for students to come away with patents or summer jobs from companies impressed with their work, said Dean Gilbert, president of the science fair.

Take this one: "How do different oxygen flow rates, temperature and nano-partide catalyst paints affect efficiency with which methanol is oxidized and energy is generated in a direct methanol fuel cell?" asked Sulekha Ramayya from Palos Verdes Peninsula High School.

Sam Gong, a junior at Palos Verdes High School, was bombarded with questions all day about his design for a system that could power household devices wirelessly, something he's worked on for two and a half years. He's built a small-scale model, but the 17-year-old has been hired by a Chinese firm for the summer to try to develop a larger version that could potentially power, say, the electronics in a living room without cords.

"I was kind of forced by my science teacher" to come to the fair, Gong said. "But it's a good experience to have."

He said it helps with his presentation skills and prepares him for his plan to become a scientist.

For many, it also offers a rare chance to encounter other teens who operate on their level.

"It's a duty, almost, to observe how much they worked," Justin Comins, a junior at High Tech High School in Lake Balboa, said of fellow presenters.

His project used an electroencephalogram — a device that reads electrical activity in the brain — to see what led to the most activity. The answer: math problems, over articles (from both technical and entertainment magazines) and a racing video game, among others.

"I enjoy meeting people with the same drive and motivation that I have," he said.

Mellody Anderson and Gene Doss had come to see the work of their granddaughter. Anderson, 67, of Buena Park marveled at what the students were capable of doing.

"This means the next generation has something going for them!" she said. "Who'd think of some of this stuff, except for a kid?"

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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