High school students from the Brownsville Independent School District gathered on Saturday for a battle of brains to see whose science fair project would be selected to go to regional competitions.
The BISD Science Fair took place at Gladys Porter High School, where 72 projects were presented to judges.
Most students have been working on projects since the beginning of the school year, said Andy Miller, a physics and astronomy teacher at Porter High School.
There were nine projects competing from his class, he said.
For Brownsville students, the projects are optional, BISD science specialist Chuck Ratliff said.
Even though the work is not required, Miller said many students will continue to work on experiments each year, sometimes improving on a previous project.
“Not every student at BISD has to do one,” Ratliff said. “But everyone has to study the scientific method.”
The scientific method is a way of teaching students to think critically, Ratliff said. Students decide on a topic, research it, formulate a problem they want to investigate, create an experiment that will help them come to results and then report those answers, Ratliff said.
“One of the major things they teach in school is problem solving,” Ratliff said. “What good is having all of this information and skills if we cannot apply it?”
The projects were placed in 17 different categories that ranged from animal science, to plant physiology and computer science, Ratliff said.
Experiments can become so ambitious that proper guidelines need to be in place and the process needs to be overseen by qualified scientists, he said.
Pace High School seniors Carlos Prieto, 18, Edgar Valdez and Jesus Peña, both 17, worked on an experiment comparing which type of turbine — vertical or horizontal — produced more energy.
Horizontal turbines are more common, but Prieto and his group found that vertical turbines work more efficiently, he said.
“For nuclear energy there’s a lot of risks that’s involved, storing nuclear waste is a problem,” he said. “We need to start looking at other sources of energy.”
Prieto and his group placed first among projects competing in the energy and transportation category, according to Ratliff. They came in second for the grand champion title among all projects.
Since SpaceX is proposing to build a rocket launch site near Boca Chica Beach, 17-year-old Mabel De Leon and Alejandra Carrizales, 18, worked to see what kind of environmental issues might arise because of the development.
The students from Pace tested to see the effect of trichloroethylene, a chemical compound emitted by rockets, on ghost shrimp.
“It’s a small animal, but it can affect the environment,” Carrizales said.
The two girls placed third in the environmental science category, Ratliff said.
For Miller, who’s been working with students since 1990, a few topics like which battery lasts longer or which paper towel holds more water tend to be recycled year after year.
“Whether they start off with paper towels or comparing batteries, they’re learning how to do science,” Miller said.
“It gives them practice at problem solving which they are going to use all of their lives to be more successful,” Ratliff added.