Henderson students take first in science fair at UNLV

Science can take humans to amazing places. It is taking two Henderson girls to Pittsburgh.

Clara Buck and Sarah DiSalvo, both 14, won a trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which is scheduled for May 13-18. The Intel ISEF is a global science competition featuring more than 1,500 high school students from 65 countries.

Students at last year's national competition received $4 million in awards and prizes, including a $75,000 grand prize.

Clara and Sarah won the overall first and second prizes, respectively, at the Beal Bank USA Southern Nevada Regional Science & Engineering Fair, which was held March 23 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway. Both are freshmen at the Coral Academy of Science, a public charter school at 1051 Sandy Ridge Ave.

UNLV's College of Sciences organized the event, which featured 45 projects. Several other students received medals for first, second and third place in a variety of scientific categories. A second fair for elementary and middle school students was held March 30.

Clara's project was titled "Exploring Growth Patterns and Intelligence in an Amoeboid Organism." Clara tried to simplify it, saying she measured the growth of a fungus-like protist. It's like a giant cell with many nuclei, she said.

"There's research showing that it can, in a maze, detect the shortest distance between two food sources," Clara said. "Basically, this organism can do things we wouldn't expect a simple organism to do.

"That's very interesting. It gives us a chance to reconsider what intelligence is. It gives us insight into how intelligence evolved in organisms."

Sarah's project was titled "Which has the Greatest Amount of Data Track Spacing: CDs or DVDs?" Sarah reflected a laser off of the discs and measured the angles using a protractor. She found that data pack spacing is smaller on CDs than DVDs.

Sarah and Clara, who are close friends at school, said they were "shocked" to win and are glad to be traveling together. They plan to make some improvements to their projects before the national competition.

"I really like the science fair," Sarah said. "I've been doing it since fifth grade. It gives you a goal to set and gives you something to work on and more knowledge you don't think about every day. ... It gets you thinking about how the world works."

Tim Porter, dean of UNLV's College of Sciences, said the event is the largest annual science fair competition in Southern Nevada.

It is nice to see girls excel at this event, too, he said, adding that girls traditionally score higher than boys in elementary school math and science, but that the trend reverses beginning in middle school and continuing through high school.

"I think it is exceedingly important for students to be involved in these kinds of science events, especially women," Porter said. "This event helps keep that interest level in elementary, middle and up through high school. It encourages kids to stay active and involved in science."

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.