Taunton High science fair hits 33-year mark

List your event now for free! TAUNTON — The judges at this year’s 33rd annual Taunton High School Science Fair had to wrap their heads around 240 student projects.

The ranking and rating resulted in 16 winners who received a total of $1,350 in cash prizes ranging from $25 to $300.

But the real appeal wasn’t monetary.

The 240-plus high and middle school, science-class students — ranging in grade levels from seven to 12 — each year are motivated to use their brains to the best of their ability and embrace the concept of creative thinking, according to Jordan Valois, curriculum supervisor for the science department at Taunton High School.

“Participating in the science fair is a beast, and the kids know it. But once they get there they’re happy,” Valois said.

Taunton High headmaster Matthew Mattos had a one-word response when he was asked his opinion of this year’s public schools, science fair, which was held Friday.

“Amazing,” Mattos said, adding that projects on display from all three grade brackets were impressive.

Those brackets included students in grades seven and eight; nine and 10; and 11 and 12.

Mattos said it’s important to underscore the behind-the-scenes effort put forth by the school’s science teachers, who encouraged students to consider competing in the fair.

All students who participate in the annual science fair are members of the National Honor Society.

Valois, 30, said every Taunton High Honor Society students each year are required to do a science-class research project, which is submitted as a research paper.

He said it’s optional as to whether they want to submit their names for consideration to compete in the science fair. Valois says about half those students are ultimately selected.

“We only allow what we think are the better projects,” Valois said, which he notes is not necessarily an easy task.

“It can be tricky,” he added.

Among those who participated in this year’s science fair was Paige Silvia, a 16-year-old junior who compared differences in blood pressure and lung capacity between various types of athletic runners.

She said long distance runners, on average, had the lowest blood pressure levels, which did not surprise her.

But Silvia said she was surprised that sprinters, who typically engage in anaerobic exercises as training regimen, scored highest in terms of lung capacity.

Silvia said her testing took three or four days and involved more than 40 students: “I have a lot of friends who are athletes,” she said.

Depending on the two categories, she either recorded the lung capacity or blood pressure of each subject immediately before and after doing 25 jumping jacks.

Silvia says she used standard equipment, including a plastic incentive spirometer and an electronic blood-pressure cuff, or monitor.

She said she’s interested in medicine and medical research, particularly as it applies to a human being’s circulatory system.

“The heart is the most interesting thing — everything’s based on the heart,” she said.

Silvia says she was in part motivated as result of the death five years ago of her grandmother, who died of a heart attack that stemmed from other ailments.

She also said she knows first-hand what it’s like to have to deal with certain medical conditions: Silvia said she’s had asthma nearly her entire life and uses a nebulizer, which delivers medicine to her lungs.

Silvia said she wants to study chemistry in college and eventually become either a surgeon or an FBI agent who specializes in forensics.

Silvia earned a third-place showing in her bracket and walked away with $50 in prize money.

Jenna Pereira, on the other hand, used jade plants and music as the centerpiece of her controlled test.

The 12-year-old Martin Middle School seventh-grader wanted to know if plants grow differently when they’re exposed to music. She also used different types of music as a scientific variable.

What she discovered was that the plant not subjected to an hour of music per day over the course of five weeks fared the poorest in terms of growth and overall appearance.

Pereira said the plant exposed to rock music fared better; she said her classical-music plant, however, had the best physical appearance.

“It looks so much better,” she said.

Studies in recent years have indicated that babies who are given a steady diet of classical music are generally happier and healthier.

Each plant, Pereira said, received a daily allotment of two ounces of water. She said she piped in the music via the Pandora app.

The rock music included Guns N’ Roses. On the classical spectrum she said she alternated between Mozart and Beethoven.

Pereira theorizes that music stimulates plant growth by means of sound waves, which in turn stimulate cells to produce glucose.

Taunton High junior Kathryn Baptiste used cartilage from store-bought chicken breasts to test their tensile strength. Her project was called Bulletproof Cartilage.

Baptiste says she was inspired by a study conducted two years ago at the University of Michigan — where researchers utilized Kevlar, a synthetic fiber used in bullet-proof vests, to determine its potential as a replacement for human cartilage.

Baptiste used a spring scale to test the strength and durability of the chicken breasts, which she said were the most readily available body parts with cartilage that is somewhat comparable to that of a human being.Her conclusion, based on her findings and that of the U. of Michigan researchers, is that Kevlar will outlast any surgical, joint-replacement parts currently being used.Baptiste says she’s considering entering a pre-med program in college and would like to become a surgeon: “I like hands-on activities,” she said.Taunton High seniors Peter Nguyen and Danzel Rebelo double-teamed on a project they called “Limbs of the Future.”They said they wanted to see firsthand some of the complexities of developing a fully functional, robotic hand capable of grasping objects.The two used a 3-D printed hand, courtesy of the school’s computer-lab class, and connected it to an arm made of wood, wires, small motors, and a pull-up resistor — the totality of which was connected to a laptop equipped with a software program of their own design.Unlike current high-tech prostheses that are activated by a brain’s neurotransmitters, Nguyen’s and Rebelo’s model relied on their software program, which essentially acted as a stand-in for the brain.First place winners in this year’s science fair included Mia Blennau, grade eight; Michaela Callahan, grade seven; Samuel Schumacher, grade 9, and Nolan Tavares, grade 10, who tied for first place in the combined ninth/tenth grade division; and California Muratore, grade 11.Dr. Charles Thayer and Morton Hospital were major donors to this year’s science fair, according to Taunton Schools Superintendent John Cabral.Valois said he can always use more judges.He said 47 people, including some engineers and retired teachers, acted as judges this year, compared to 60 at the previous year’s science fair.

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