RFD: Jr. scientists

RFD: Jr. scientists – rural winners in Westinghouse Science Talent Search

Fred W. Decker

National finalists in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search in March and in the International Science and Engineering Fair in May include some winners from rural communities, even though many people have the idea that success in science competition requires an urban location with access to working scientists. True, a large number of the winners come from New York City, for instance, but this does not shut out some youthful scientists from remote locations. Consider the following examples of recent winners with RFD mail addresses.

Vickie Marie Abel of Rt. 1, Corning, California, came to Washington, D.C., as one of 40 finalists in the 1982 Westinghouse event. She had conducted research on a soil mold that attached the tree roots on her family’s walnut farm. She told us she had started this study as a 4-H project, exhibited in the science fair the next year at Chico State College, and the third year competed as a national finalist in that 1982 Science Talent Search. Also in the same group of finalists appeared Timothy Thomas Tylaska of RFD 1, Mystic, Connecticut, with an investigation of the use of hydrogen as fuel for a gasoline engine. His project culminated several years of science and engineering contests.

Michael Francis DeFreitas, whose mail reaches him at a P. O. Box at Edgewood, New Mexico, credited his school as “great” in permitting him to take the bus to Albuquerque to conduct experiments with cloned DNA in the lab of a working scientist in the city. “Just keep up with your school work,” said the school officials in granting the flexibility of schedule which led to his selection as the farthest western finalist in the 1983 Science Talent Search. Marcelo Colon of Gurabo, Puerto Rico, had started with 4-H and Science Club. He investigated the effectiveness of particular plant extracts against bacteria involved in gastrointestinal infections, to place as the farthest eastern finalist in the same 1983 Westinghouse competition.

The 1984 top winner of the $12,000 Science Talent Search scholarship, Christopher R. Montanaro, came from a small town in Maine and gets mail at RD #1, South Paris, Maine. His home lies farthest east of all the 40 winners of the trip to Washington. The winner from farthest west, Ian Robert Gordon, came from Stanfield, Oregon, a town of 1600 people in the open spaces near the end of the Old Oregon Trail. Both these winners, as well as others among the 40 finalists, capitalized upon science outreach opportunities to work with individual scientists in their own research environments. Chris Montanaro worked in a laboratory as a student in the Jackson Laboratory of Bar Harbor, Maine, in a two month summer program for students. Ian Gordon attended the 1982 summer camp of a major science center in central Oregon conducted by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) of Portland. He then in 1983 worked in the field party of the geologist with whom he had connected at the oMSI camp the year before. In both cases the direct contact with working scientists provided the special winning ingredient adding to school, hobbies, family encouragement, and youth interest programs.

After a brief orientation and the writing of a research proposal in the first two weeks of the nine-week program at the Jackson Laboratory, Christopher Montanaro’s independent project began in the lab of the senior scientist having expertise in the selected topic. He experimented with restriction enzymes, which have the ability to cut long DNA molecules into desired fragments. This molecular biology did not totally eclipse other activities, for he continued with music and math interests.

The geology summer camps culminated a decade of “rock hounding” for Ian Gordon starting with learning about agates with his father. The final spurt to make him one of the 40 winners of the trip to Washington consisted of trips to the highway cuts near Pilot Rock, Oregon, where he pulled out the rocks bearing imprints of vegetation from 32 to 35 million years ago. These fossils showed him that the climate gradually cooled in that period.

The local and state science fairs each year draw many exhibitors in competition culminating in the International Science and Engineering Fair. Over 500 contestants appeared in both 1982 and 1983. The number of rural and small-town exhibitors increased markedly in 1983 with nearly one-fourth of them having RFD addresses. It helps to have working scientists at hand, but also it helps to have the inspiration of rural problems and “real world” challenges to stimulate research. Our rural youth can excel in this competition if they have the encouragement and information on the opportunities and if they get started early. For details on the Youth Science Program, contact Science Service, 1719 N Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.

COPYRIGHT 1984 U.S. Government Printing Office

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group