Coral Academy students dominate science competition

For the second year in a row, students at the Coral Academy of Science Las Vegas dominated the competition.

Sarah DiSalvo, 15, and Patrick Prochaska, 16, 10th-graders at Coral Academy, 8185 Tamarus St., were the overall first- and second-place high school winners, respectively, at the Beal Bank USA Southern Nevada Regional Science and Engineering Fair March 19 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Last year’s winners in the high school division were also students at Coral Academy, a public charter school for kindergarten through 12th grade that opened in 2007 with an emphasis on math, science and technology.

The elementary and middle school fair is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the ballroom at the UNLV Student Union, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway. The event is open to the public. Nearly 500 projects from about 50 schools are expected to be presented in those competitions, event organizers said.

Sarah and Prochaska won $1,000 and $500, respectively, and will represent Nevada at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, planned May 12-17 in Phoenix.

Prochaska’s project studied “the accuracy of optical data transmitted through visible light,” as he explained it. He said it is technology that the military and major hospitals are studying.

Asked how he felt after placing second, he was nearly speechless. “I barely believe it,” he said. “I just can’t believe it.”

Sarah’s project studied “the physiological and psychological effects of infrasound on humans.” She was the second-place winner in last year’s local competition and traveled to Pittsburgh for the Intel competition.

After winning this year’s fair, she paced around the ballroom and fell to her knees a few times.

“I almost threw up,” she said. “I can’t believe it. It was a blessing to go the first time and definitely a blessing to go again.”

She said science fairs such as these are important for students because “this opens your mind.”

“It makes you think anything is possible if you set your mind to it,” she said. “It sounds kind of cheesy, but that’s what it is.”

The fair’s organizers gave awards to projects in 10 categories and picked the two top projects from those winners. Each of the seven high schools also received $1,000 for their science departments just for participating.

There were 66 projects from about 90 students, as some teamed up. Two-thirds of students and projects were from East Career & Technical Academy, 6705 Vegas Valley Drive.

Chemistry teacher Sarah MacNab requires all of her students to make projects to be entered in the fair. She said every school should be encouraging its students to participate.

“I feel like a science fair is an amazing thing,” MacNab said. “I let them choose their own project. They write a research paper, design their experiment and do it.”

Some of her students built mobile apps that can help students review for proficiency exams. One student built a solar-powered Ferris wheel; another compared solar- and gas-powered cars.

MacNab also likes her students to participate because it gives them a chance to mingle with UNLV professors, many of whom attended the event.

“I was a scientist, and I see no greater joy than researching something you want to know about,” MacNab said. “In class we teach you so much of what you have to learn. If I can teach you that science is really the world around you and applies to your life, then I’m opening up your mind, and you’re never going to be someone who believes what’s said. You’re going to be someone who questions and researches. That’s what’s great about these projects.”

Prochaska said he enjoyed a chance to discuss science not only with professors but also with other students.

“It allows very specific-minded kids to surround themselves with like-minded kids and adults,” he said. “One of the most valuable things a budding scientist can have is the kind of human resources of the relationships around them.”

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 702-224-5524.

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