For 60th year, Greater KC Science and Engineering Fair names winners

March 26, 2011

The Kansas City Star

The Greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair honored some of the best young minds in the area for the 60th year Saturday, and once again there's reason for hope in the future.

One of the Grand Award winners is pursuing a cleaner world through his research into producing and using hydrogen fuel that eliminates harmful carbon emissions. The other, a Grand Award winner for her third consecutive year, is planning a career in medical research.

In all, 187 students ranging from fourth-graders to high school seniors were honored at the event held in Crown Center Exhibit Hall. Their bright, fresh faces and proud parents energized the hall.

Mary Brock, executive director of the Science Pioneers, the event organizer, urged everyone in the room to take a bow.

"Without your encouragement, they could not have attained these awards," she said. "So please, students, teachers, parents and mentors, give yourself a bow."

Tyler Howard, one of the Grand Award winners, said two professionals he met at the science fair's "Meet the Mentor" event in November sparked his research into hydrogen production. They disagreed about how magnesium reacted to water, and he wound up finding out both were right.

His project, titled "Hydrolize: Kinetics of the Hydrogen-Production of the Magnesium-Water Reaction in Aqueous Solution," came up with methods to produce hydrogen gas with no carbon byproducts. The 17-year-old is a senior at Olathe Northwest High School and the son of Kevin and Susan Howard.

The other Grand Award winner, Prarthana Dalal, 17, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School, has visited the stage three years in a row for the honor. She's the daughter of Jignesh and Sangeeta Dalal.

Studying the genetics of hemoglobin has been her passion since her first winning project as a sophomore. It was an interest she picked up when she volunteered at a Red Cross clinic while visiting her grandmother in India.

This year, rather than examining the affect of other genes, she decided to dive right down to the DNA of hemoglobin in a project with a title as long and complex as any genetic code. "I'd like to get my medical degree and be a physician-scientist," Dalal said.

Howard said his goal was to go into chemical engineering and mathematics.Howard and Dalal, along with their teachers, will compete at the 2011 International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.

They also were among the five seniors who received Pioneers in Science Awards in recognition for their research, innovation and design. The other winners were Jennifer Caseres, Olathe North; Megan Smith, Shawnee Mission West; and Sarina Farb, Ahimsa Home School.

Three science teachers also were honored: Deanna Soukup of Bernard Campbell Middle School in Lee's Summit and Barb McMahill of Fire Prairie Middle School in Fort Osage won the Howard Gadberry Memorial Award. Mary Coogan from Liberty North High School won the Sister Martina Rockers Award.

This year also marked the inaugural Kansas BioGENEius Challenge competition. Four students were selected to go on to compete in the Kansas State Science and Engineering Fair in Wichita, and ultimately three winners will be chosen to compete in the U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge.

Dalal and Farb were among the four chosen. The others were Anndrea Fenton, a junior at Olathe North, and Samantha Parker, a senior at Blue Valley North. Amy Jordan Wooden, a spokeswoman for the BioGENEius, said the event was intended to promote science with business potential.

"The twist here is not only promoting research but the commercial applications that will translate into jobs and future development," she said. To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com.