Five MacArthur students place first in county science fair

Brienna Blackwood, a sixth-grader MacArthur Middle School, explains her first-place science project in the Anne Arundel County Regional Science and Engineering Fair held March 4 in Glen Burnie. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)

Can a rooftop garden lower a family’s heating bill?

Brienna Blackwood’s first-place science project in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools Regional Science and Engineering Fair provides a positive answer.

Brienna, a sixth-grader at MacArthur Middle School, is one of five first-place winners in the event held March 4 at North County High School in Glen Burnie.

MacArthur is an International Baccalaureate Programme school.

As a result of the win, Brienna and four classmates are applying to compete in Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering Rising Stars), a premier national science and engineering competition for middle school students sponsored by the Broadcom Foundation.

The organization “empowers young people to be STEM literate, critical thinkers and college and career-ready,” according to its website.

As nominees of the Broadcom Masters, the students’ science projects are considered to be among the top 10 percent of middle school science projects in the country.

Anna M. Ory, chairperson of MacArthur’s science department, said it has been a decade since its students have been nominees of the Broadcom Masters.

“I am very excited about the opportunity for five of our students to be nationally recognized for their achievement in science research,” said Ory, a judge in the county science fair.

For two months, MacArthur’s science teachers taught lessons on science research and scientific and engineering practices.

Three hundred nominees and their top projects will be selected from across the country. The 30 finalists will compete for a top prize of $25,000.

“I think they’re amazing,” Ory said. “They’re so creative. Everyone found a topic that was of interest to them and they were passionate about.”

Creative Science Projects

The Anne Arundel County Public Schools require all elementary, middle and high school students to complete a science project.

Ory said MacArthur’s students began working on their projects in September. About 1,000 science projects were completed. The school’s science teachers selected 125 projects to compete in MacArthur’s science fair in December.

The 10 students who scored highest on the judging rubric for the science fair went on to compete in the regional county science and engineering fair.

Brienna developed the idea for her science project out of concern about the effects of global warming.

“I wondered if green roofs could maintain a home’s internal temperature more than a regular roof or a roof with extra installation,” the 11-year-old said. “I wondered if there is a way we could reduce pollution, but still keep and use the technology that produces air pollution — like cars and trucks.”

For her science project experiment, Brienna took two empty shoe boxes. She filled one with grass and soil to represent a home with a green rooftop. The other box remained empty to represent a home with regular roofing.

Brienna then placed a probe thermometer in each box to record the internal temperature, and a thermometer outside each box to record the external temperature. She used a heat lamp as an energy source.

Brienna wanted to find out which box was best at maintaining its internal temperature.

The experiment’s results were that the shoe box filled with grass and soil was the best at maintaining its internal temperature.

“We can use green roof tops in buildings to save money and protect the environment,” Brienna said.

Green roof tops, she said, should be used for homes and apartment buildings in low-income communities. Families can plant gardens on their roofs to save money on their heating bills and provide a steady supply of healthy foods at little cost.

Brienna said she feels “awesome” about winning first place. She also won the fair’s Women in Engineering Award.

“I want to be an engineer when I grow up,” she said.

First-Place Wins

Eighth-graders Grant Gillinger and Bao-Chau Nguyen also took first place.

Grant won for his science project experiment that proved that an object that is smaller and rounder deflects more radio waves than an object that is flat and broad.

“I’m excited,” the 13-year-old said about his first-place win. “I was pretty surprised and happy.”

Grant wants to be a military officer like his father, who he said was “definitely proud” about his win.

“I don’t know if I’ll be flying a plane or engineering one, but I’d like to do something with aircraft,” Grant said.

Bao-Chau’s interest in biology led to her science project experiment about osmosis, a process that occurs when a low concentrated liquid passes through a semi-permeable membrane to a high concentrated liquid and is diluted.

“I was surprised. I didn’t expect to win,” Bao-Chau said. “I was very nervous.”

The 14-year-old plans to become a pediatrician to marry her love of children and science.

Ory predicts that if MacArthur’s students are selected to compete in the national competition, they will succeed.

“I think they’re going to be great,” she said.

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