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9 HS students to international science fair

Citizen Staff Writer



Margaret Wilch, a science teacher at Tucson High Magnet School, has reason to be especially proud this week.

Six out of nine area students going to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair are hers.

They, along with three others, make up the largest entourage ever from here to go to the fair, the world’s largest precollege science contest. Each year more than 1,500 high school students from more than 50 countries exhibit their independent research and compete for nearly $4 million in scholarships and prizes. Doctoral-level scientists are judges.

“These kids are phenomenal. They really are our future for science and engineering in Pima County,” said Kathleen A. Bethel, director of the Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair. “I think they’re all going to do great.”

Wilch agreed. “It’s amazing when you give a person an opportunity, what they’ll do. They’re incredibly dedicated and spend lots of time on their projects.”

She is accompanying her students to the fair, which started Sunday and runs through Friday in Reno, Nev.

“She’s just incredible,” Bethel said of Wilch. “Year after year she has at least one student going to Intel, and often they win.”

This is the 11th straight year that Wilch has had international competitors. And seven have come home with awards. Wilch’s students and their projects are:

• Angela Schlegel: “The identification of enzymes used in Salvia divinorum to produce salvinorin A”

• Mahwish Khalid: “The effect of male size of cytoplasmic incompatibility in the parasitic wasp Encarsia pergandiella”

• Negin Nematollahi: “Factors affecting bone strength during development in peri-pubertal girls”

• Michael Wallace: “Artificial selection for polystyrene degradation in bacterial communities”

• The team of Emily Derks and Alice Glasser: “A comparison of the effects of added urban stresses on native and non-native soil microbial communities.”

The other competitors are:

• Ebaa Al-Obeidi, from Canyon del Oro High: “Sonoran Solar Solution”

• Martin Lopez and Mario Valdez, from Rio Rico High: “Terminal Ballistics of Household Structures”

Wilch said her earlier education has molded how she prepares her students for success.

She specifically recalls two science teachers: Gary Benesh at George Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and David Lyon, Ph.D. at Cornell (Iowa) College.

In Lyon’s class, Wilch published a scientific paper as an undergraduate, a rarity.

“And I don’t ever remember having a textbook in Mr. Benesh’s class. I remember going out into the field, going to the zoo. He had us reading Scientific America magazine.”

Her students are getting a similar education. She has University of Arizona professionals as mentor to her students, who are actually doing research in UA science labs. And she has a UA graduate student working in her classroom, thanks to a National Science Foundation grant.

In addition to the nine competitors at internationals, four students, who also had first-place wins in either the Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair in Tucson or the first-ever Arizona State Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix earlier this year, will attend as observers.

“For observers, we look for kids who have a long-term commitment and who we think will learn what it takes to get to the next level,” Bethel said. “We’ve had a lot of observers who’ve come back and done well at regionals and internationals.”

CDO’s Al-Obeidi was an observer last year, Bethel said.

This year’s observers and their projects are:

• Ostin Zarse and Joshua Sloane, from Sonoran Science Academy: “Upping the Power: Can reflective materials be cost effective while increasing the output of photovoltaic cells?”

• Stanley Palase, also from Sonoran Science Academy: “Metabolic Comparison of Carbohydrates”

• Anna Guarino, from Salpointe Catholic High: “Microbial Contamination of Pens”

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