Science showcase: Students exhibit projects at Tech

2013-03-15T00:00:00Z Science showcase: Students exhibit projects at TechBy Erin Nicholes for The Montana Standard Montana Standard

Most people don’t think much about everyday exposures to tiny metal particles, from titanium dioxide in sunscreen to copper in wrinkle creams.

But that’s all Zeke Peterson has been focusing on lately.

“I’m looking at these metal particles and how much they kill cells,” Peterson said Thursday while explaining his project at the Division I Montana Tech Science Fair.

He was among more than 60 high school students from throughout Southwest Montana who showcased projects at the fair, hoping to advance to one of three coveted spots at the Intel ISEF, an international science and engineering fair in Phoenix this spring.

“I’ve seen some amazing projects,” said Mary Sutherland, a Bureau of Mines and Geology hydrogeologist and fair judge. “Some of the (students) are beyond some of the Ph.D.s I know.”

Advanced education was almost necessary just to decipher some of the project titles.

“Genomic Analysis of Mycobacteriophage,” Robert Lester answered flawlessly when asked to describe his project.

The Butte High School sophomore and the only local student at the fair said the event is a good chance to learn and show his work before he moves on to study either genomic research or molecular biology in college.

“I love this,” Lester, wearing a black suit and tie, said of his field of interest. “It’s about taxonomy. These phages outnumber all other organisms.”

The students ranging from freshmen to seniors were sharply dressed in shiny boots and neat skirts, suit jackets and crisp ties to best represent their work, which covered everything from water purification in Ethiopia to birth order’s effects on driving habits.

While some of the students, such as Lester, attended on their own, others traveled from afar with advanced placement science classes.

Madi France and Jasmine Streight, both sophomores at Ennis High School, proudly presented their project, which addressed whether dogs, cats or people have the most mouth bacteria.

“We found they all had the same amount, just different types,” France said, adding that they used their friends and their friends’ pets to gather data.

All projects were subject to a first round of judging in the morning, with only 30 percent advancing to a second round in the afternoon. The winners were announced at a dinner Thursday.

All students at the fair can apply for the Montana Tech Foundation’s Golden heritage Award, which is a $4,500 scholarship to Tech, while fair prizes included cash and awards from local organizations in addition to advancement to the international science fair.

Some competitors are previous winners who hoped to return to the Intel ISEF, including Stacia Hill, a Big Sky High School senior.

“I’ve gained a lot of experience and had a chance to talk to student researchers from around the world” at the international fair, she said.

— Erin Nicholes may be reached at

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