Last year, the Fort Atkinson Regional Science Fair experienced flagging participation, still in the upper 60s but with fewer entrants than in years past.
Following a slate of changes, however, this year’s competition surged back to success with double its former participation.
Among the big changes was a move to a new location, the more roomy and flexible Fort Atkinson Club rather than its old home at the Hoard Historical Museum.
In addition, the fair consolidated from a week-long run to a one-day event, adding refreshment options and a full “citizen science fair” full of demonstrations and information for youngsters interested in all areas of science, giving families more to do while they awaited judging and the awards ceremony.
Coinciding with the successful 2020 fair last weekend was the announcement of President Amy Lutzke’s retirement from the science fair board of directors following 17 years of involvement and seven years as head coordinator of the event.
Steve Anderson, vice president of the Fort Atkinson Regional Science Fair Board of Directors, offered the board’s sincere appreciation for all that Lutzke has done during her time with the organization to promote science and to open up opportunities for young people exploring this field.
“Last year, she challenged us to change the fair with a new vision,” Anderson said.
He noted that the challenge resulted in many positive changes that should bolster the opportunity for years to come.
Lutzke said that it takes an incredible amount of work to put on the fair, with year-round planning by members of the board and the full participation of numerous volunteers and judges (most of them science students or staff with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater), not to mention the business and community sponsors who help fund it.
Despite all of the work, it’s always worth it, Lutzke said, noting, “I love science fairs — they’re so cool. And this year things went so smoothly.”
Lutzke said she is leaving the group in good hands as Cynthia Ficenec takes over as president.
Especially popular at Saturday’s fair was the “citizen science” fair, which promoted area science resources and opportunities for people of all ages to get involved in science projects in their communities and region. Featured individuals and groups included Karen Albrecht, Fort Atkinson’s “Butterfly Lady” talking about her work with Monarch Watch, tagging and tracking butterflies to document their population and travels; Eric Compas, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater associate professor associated with the Rock River Coalition, talking about local opportunities to do water quality monitoring; the state Department of Natural Resources’ citizen science bat roost monitoring initiative, including maps of local areas monitored; and more.
In addition, there were hands-on activities touching on all different areas of science, most of them provided by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Science Outreach project.
Young participants could identify models of animal scat, picking out which droppings signified which animal. They could arrange velcroed, stuffed cloth human organs in their appropriate places inside cloth models of the human torso. They could connect with camps for youngsters interested in science and college-level programs for those studying at that level.
They could take scrapings of cells from their own cheeks and look at those cells under the microscope. They could tag samples of soil taken from various areas of the Glacial Drumlin Trail, which will be put into a petri dish and “grown” to see what organisms are present. They could compare the skulls of different wild animals native to Wisconsin to see what skull went to which animal, and much more.
And they could find out about an upcoming “Tech Savvy” camp for girls grades 6-9 at the UW-Whitewater, which will take place March 14.
Youngsters and their families also had the opportunity to hear from speakers representing different areas of science and to engage in fun science games like Periodic Table of the Elements trivia-fueled Bingo.
This marked the 29th year for the regional science fair, which has introduced a generation-plus of youngsters to the scientific method, encouraging hands-on exploration while holding youths to high standards. The event got its start three decades ago with a coalition of citizens who wanted to open up this type of enrichment opportunity to area students.
Those eligible include students in kindergarten through high school who live in or attend a public, parochial or homeschool in Fort Atkinson, Palmyra-Eagle, Whitewater, Milton, Jefferson, Lake Mills, Cambridge and Johnson Creek. Participation tends to center largely in the Fort Atkinson area, but there’s a sprinkling of winners from the other communities, as well.
The organization’s mission is to support and enhance the area science curriculum and to give students an opportunity not just to explore scientific topics, but also to “do” science by employing the scientific method.
This involves starting with a specific question you want answered, coming up with a hypothesis — or what you think will happen — and then testing that hypothesis through experimentation. It necessarily involves some result that can be weighed, counted or otherwise measured.
The fair presents monetary awards to the top projects.
In addition, each fall, the fair holds a T-shirt design contest, with the best student-created design going on the T-shirts presented to all of the science fair participants at the event.
This year’s T-shirt design winner was Natasha Carothers, a Fort Atkinson High School student.
On top of the regular science fair awards, the “Friends of Rose Lake” group sponsors an award to the best natural science-related project, ideally one that investigates or benefits the wildlife at Dorothy Carnes Park, where Rose Lake is located.
This year’s Rose Lake award, a pair of binoculars, went to Caitlyn Drake.
Meanwhile, top honorees in each age category follow:
First place: Sarah Webster for “Metal Magnet Test.”
Second place: Graham Schaning for “Best Light For Plant Growth.”
Third place: MaryLou Larsen for “Ice Cream Melting.”
Fourth place: Mackinley Schuldt for “Planting With Soda.”
Fifth place: Kinley Gille for “Melting Candy Canes.”
Sixth place: Charlie Fortney for “The Dog Treat Test.”
First place: Aria Killian for “Food = Light.”
Second place: Cole Schaning for “On Which Surface Will a Car Go the Fastest?”
Third place: Suri Rao for “Volcano Explosion Ingredients.”
Fourth place (tie): Ava Krahn for her untitled project and Grace Tess for “What Food Gets Moldy Fastest?”
(No fifth-place awarded in this category.)
Sixth place: Kegan Gille for “Candy Launching Machines.”
Fourth/Fifth-grade individual projects
First place: Walid Guerra for “Magnets in Water.”
Second place: Jameson Stafford for “Golf Ball Performance.”
Third place: Max Nelson for “Potato Battery vs Lemon Battery.”
Fourth place: Miles Ficenec for “What Happens When Acids Evaporate?”
Fifth place: Huck Barnes for “Velocity and Acceleration.”
Sixth place: Madison Nichols for “No Rain Jacket.”
Fourth- and fifth-grade team awards
First place: The team of Ian Copp, Kipton Smillie and Owen Smith for “Catapults.”
Second place: Callie Enger & Monica Broadhead for “Long Lasting Flowers.”
Third place: Logan Pulgarin and Jordan Rendon for “Team Toast.”
Fourth place: Brody Pempek and Pearson Bottiger for “Does Temperature Affect Birds Singing?”
Fifth place: Grace Martin and Vianika Martinez for “Eggsploring Eggs.”
Sixth place: Myley MacSaveny and Evangelina Vincent for “The Importance of Ingredients.”
Middle School level
First place: Francis Kuefler for “Electrolytes.”
Second place: Ella Last for “Does Mouthwash Kill Oral Bacteria?”
Third place: Lauren Wessels for “Germs, Germs Everywher.e”
Fourth place: Calvin Ficenec for “Microwave as a Faraday Cage.”
Fifth place: Savanna Hendrickson for “Microinvertebrates.”
Sixth place: Hailey Droster for “Heart Disease.”
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