Nearly two dozen Pikes Peak region students are invited to participate in state and international science fairs, the Pikes Peak Regional Science and Engineering Fair announced at its awards presentation Wednesday. PPRSEF recognized standout projects after students presented to judges at the 66th annual regional fair over the weekend.
The night’s grand award winner, freshman Natalie Muro from Palmer High School, walked away with $1,000 and a trip to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Dallas, Texas, for her research on buoy wave energy converters.
“Coming into this, I had no thoughts of winning. I was just like, this is going to be a great opportunity,” Muro said. “I was shocked. I set myself up, like, ‘you know, I just hope I’ll get a few special awards. I’d be happy if I was top five in my division.”
The fair was split into two divisions: junior, consisting of sixth- to eighth-graders, and senior, consisting of ninth- through 12th-graders. After eight rounds of judging, junior-level students competed for one of four category awards, and seniors competed for the top spot in just two categories. Grand award winners were also chosen in each division.
Forty-three local and national organizations, including National Geographic and the U.S. Air Force, funded additional special awards. Prizes ranged from money to certificates to miscellaneous “goodies,” according to PPRSEF co-director Carol Bach.
Muro, who raked in a dozen special awards, said she’s most excited about the special Space Foundation award. As reward, she’ll be heading to the Space Symposium later this year with her family, including her dad, an Air Force veteran.
“That is his favorite event all year,” Muro said. “When I won that, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, my dad’s gonna love this.’ He’s been taking us since we were 5.”
Roughly 50 projects were on display from Elbert, El Paso, Park and Teller county students, according to co-director Nancy Hampson. Of that lot, 18 especially strong student projects were selected to participate in the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair in Fort Collins in April, and three senior division projects were invited to the international competition in Dallas.
Students explored concepts from how facial creams impact pigskin decomposition to the effects of grazing on prairie biomass. And unlike years past, when teachers might have required students participate in the 250-plus-person event, they did so entirely on their own.
While the number of participants might have shrunk, the strength of the projects has only improved.
“People are happy to be there, because they chose to do it,” said special awards presenter Karen Crosson.
Next year’s fair will take place on Feb. 24 with registration running from the fall until January. All middle- and high school-age students are welcome to participate. Bach said she hopes to expand PPRSEF to more districts across the region to reach more students with a passion for STEM.
One suggestion from this year’s senior division grand award winner: Find a topic you love.
“There’s so much time and effort that goes into this,” Muro said. “If it’s not something you absolutely adore, it’s going to be hard to keep yourself motivated to finish up that bit of editing or stay up late to do those extra tests.”
The public can view most projects through March 5 at PPRSEF's "virtual showcase" link.