Science Fair Season:

Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch… and What It Takes to Win

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About the book

Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch… and What It Takes to Win by Judy Dutton is an inspiring current events nonfiction book telling the stories of eleven kids who compete or have competed at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, or the Intel ISEF. Judy Dutton follows some of the competitors of the ISEF 2009, whose contestants range from a girl with leprosy to a boy who is the youngest person in the world to build a nuclear fusion reactor.

About the contest

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair or the Intel ISEF is the world's largest pre-college science competition. There, high schoolers can compete for more than $4 million in awards. The ISEF is known for its high levels of project. Students are inventing different ways to solve the world's problems, such as cancer, nuclear terrorism, and lack of clean renewable energy.

The 2009 Intel ISEF was held in Reno, Nevada.


What is Intel ISEF? (narrated)

The contestants…

Eliza McNitt (17) - Known as an "anti-nerd", Eliza McNitt came into the world of science fairs by accident. Eliza joined New York's Greenwich High's grueling science course run by Mr. Bramante, or Mr. B, because it was the only science class that fit into her schedule. Before science fairs, since at Greenwich High most students picked a niche, Eliza was squarely in the theatrics track. As student government president, she planned many parties and school social events. During Intel ISEF, she even managed to squeeze in shoe shopping and a dip in the hotel Jacuzzi. No one, not even Eliza, expected her to delve into the science world, until she stepped into Mr. B's classroom, where she started researching about bees.

Elizabeth "BB" Blanchard (16) - BB Blanchard lived a pretty normal life–she was pretty, popular, and had a bubbly personality. But on November 5, 2007… she was diagnosed with leprosy, now called Hansen's disease. At first she was horrified–coming from an all-girls' Catholic school, she had heard many stories about lepers as outcasts. However, instead of keeping it a closely-guarded secret, she decided to publicize it and became a poster child of leprosy. BB began educating the United States about leprosy and tried to rid the stigma. So, for her science fair project, she teamed up with Caroline, a girl who wanted to be a dermatologist, to tell the country and the science fair judges about leprosy.

Katlin Hornig (18) - Katlin Hornig was a horse lover and her father's girl. Together, they would own and train eight horses. However, her father, Bruce Hornig, had cancer, causing medical bills to balloon over $250,000 because insurance didn't cover many of the procedures for Hodgkin's lymphoma. So, Katlin was determined to create an excellent science fair project. After a car accident, Katlin suffered a concussion and broke two of the vertebrae in her neck. During her recovery period, she found that talking and petting horses uplifted her mood, and so for her science fair project, she studied the impact of "horse therapy" on people's blood pressure and mood.

Philip Streich (18) - Before 9/11, Philip Streich lived in Princeton, NJ. It was evident that Philip was a child genius, playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue by ear and eventually scoring a perfect 2,400 on the SAT without any preparation course. However, after 9/11, the Streichs decided to move to a small farm in Platteville, WI. On this farm, Philip learned many valuable lessons. He realized that if he wanted something done, he would have to do it himself. So, when Philip began taking college courses at the University of Wisconsin in Platteville, he created his own lasers that were sensitive enough to see if carbon nanotubes, which are atoms of carbon rolled into drinking staw-like structure, dissolved in a particular solvent called NMP. He presented this work at the Intel ISEF.

Sarah Niitsuma (18) & Shwan Javdan (16) - Like many people and icebergs, Sarah had a lot hidden underneath the surface. When she was in eighth grade, she was sexually harassed by her sister's boyfriend. Sarah believed that a scholarship could change her life, so at school, to cover up her traumatizing and stressful life at home, she was an extremely hard worker. At first she wanted to work alone on her science fair project, which studied microbe levels on infant changing tables, but eventually Shwan Javdan came to help her. Shwan had come from Iran, where the education available to him was limited, so when he came to the United States, he consistently kept a 4.0GPA. Working together on the project, Sarah and Shwan were able to make it to the Intel ISEF.

Taylor Wilson (14) - Taylor Wilson was a small Texan boy who was obsessed with radioactivity. With the help of Carl Willis, a grad student who had built a device called a Farnsworth fusor that could successfully fuse atoms together and produce neutrons, and Bill Brinsmead, known as the "Pirate from Nevada" since whenever a tech company failed, he would take the equipment, Taylor was able to make his own Farnsworth fusor. With this, he became the youngest person to build one of these devices.

… and their projects

Shedding Light on Imidacloprid's Role in Colony Collapse Disorder (Eliza McNitt) - Finding evidence that pesticides might have had a role in the phenomenon of dying disappearing bees called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), this project examines how the first case of CCD coincided with the introduction of the pesticide called imidacloprid to the environment.

Are Mycobacterium leprae Eliminated from the Body after Treatment for Hansen's Disease (Leprosy)? (BB Blanchard) - This project tracked how the bacilli count of Mycobacterium leprae dropped during the treatment of leprosy. The research found that even though medication killed all bacteria within two years, it could take up to five years for the body to eliminate the evidence, prompting doctors to mistakenly extend treatment for years longer than necessary, possibly leading to side effects.

The Effects of Equine Association on the Initial Beneficiary and Benefactor (Katlin Hornig) - This project revealed how interacting with horses (such as petting them, massaging them, etc.) could significantly lower people's blood pressure, reduce their stress levels, and improve their moods.

Graphene: First Practical Production and Applications of the Supermaterial (Philip Streich) - Graphene, a single-atom-thick sheet of carbon, is stronger and conducts electrons faster than any known material. Its remarkable properties offer the potential for revolutionary applications.This research presents the first method for practically producing graphene from common graphite on a large-scale.

Ex-Changing Microbes: The Unseen Hazards of Infant Changing Tables (Sarah Niitsuma & Shwan Javdan) - This project examined microbe levels on infant changing tables in public restrooms.

Subcritical Neutron Multiplication in a 2.5 MeV Neutron Flux (Taylor Wilson) - A device commonly referred to as a “Fusor” makes a promising neutron source for industry, medicine, and research because it is safer and less of a responsibility. However, the Fusor emits too few neutrons for some applications. The goal of this research was to increase the amount of neutrons a Fusor can produce.

The legends

Garrett Yazzie - Deep within the heart of the Navajo Indian reservation, there was a legendary science fair project by a thirteen-year-old boy named Garrett Yazzie. This project was a solar-powered heater made of a 1967 Pontiac radiator, a sheet of Plexiglas, and sixty-nine soda cans. This quiet seventh-grader grew up living in a derelict trailer whose coal-burning stove triggered his sister's asthma attacks. So, to fix this, he built a heater. This heater was entered into the Discovery Channel Young Science Challenge and although his heater didn't win anything, it caught the attention of a family willing to pay for Garrett to go to a private school. After graduating, Garrett planned to attend college and study engineering.

Kayla Cornale - To better understand her autistic little cousin, Kayla Cornale developed a program that associated a piano's different keys with various words and emotions. Eventually, Lorena developed from being isolated and unsociable to being well-mannered and almost gregarious. Curious whether the method of using music to teach autistic kids words and emotions, Kayla rolled out a program in twelve special education classes and used the data she collected in science fairs. She was also named CNN's 2007 Hero of the Year. Kayla went on to attend Stanford, studying linguistics.

Kelydra Welcker - Named after the snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina, Kelydra Welcker was also known as "the kid who took on DuPont". DuPont was a chemical company that used perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, in the production of Teflon. In doing so, people who lived near DuPont, such as Kelydra's hometown of Parkersburg, WV, had on average six times the amount an average American had of PFOA in their blood. Kelydra concluded that any living creature who drank, bathed, or swam in Parkersburg's water was doing so at its own risk. Although without support, as most of Parkersburg's residents worked at DuPont, Kelydra found a way to remove PFOA from the town's water supply entirely. Eventually, she applied for a patent for her invention, which combined small amounts of carbon with a process that used electricity to remove particles from water. She went on to attend West Virginia Wesleyan with a scholarship she won from a science fair with her research on PFOA, studying chemistry.

Ryan Patterson - Ryan Patterson was another child genius obsessed with robots. At the age of eight, he built his first robot and named it Scorch. Then, his mother found a mentor for him: John McConnell. With his help, Ryan's talents and abilities grew. Ryan built two more robots: Mazebot, a robot who could reason its way through a maze, and Sleuthbot, a robot who could search buildings for bombs and other threats. Finally, he built the Glove. After seeing a deaf girl have to awkwardly have an adult interpreter wherever she went, Ryan developed a glove that would transmit the sign letters of the alphabet that she gestured with her hand to a liquid crystal display she could hand to others. Ryan went on to attend the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The boys of Eagle Point School - When Ken Ziegler arrived at Eagle Point School, a juvenile correctional facility, he changed many people. Namely, "Lloyd Jones" and "Ollie Rodriguez". Lloyd was in the facility for hacking computers. For his science project, he perused data about Mars taken by the 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter. Lloyd was looking to find water beneath the planet's surface. He pieced together a theory about craters called lobate craters, which had a splash pattern. The pattern suggested that when meteors first formed these craters, they had penetrated the water table on impact. Lloyd was able to pinpoint a place in the northern hemisphere where the water table might be easy to access. At the science fair, he earned a scholarship to Arizona State University. The other boy Ken changed was Ollie. Ken wasn't sure exactly what Ollie was in for, and didn't ask. For his science project, Ollie homed in on moons for the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Ollie whittled his 270 options down to a short list of eight planets whose moons could conceivably support life, including 47 Ursae Majoris b, HD 208487 b, and HD 213240 b. Ollie won the Grand Prize at the regional science fair, but afterwards, reverted back to his old ways.

The winners of ISEF 2009

Tara Adiseshan - Young Scientist award with a prize of $50,000

Her project explored the evolutionary relationship between sweat bees and microscopic organisms called nematodes.

Olivia Schwob - Young Scientist award with a prize of $50,000

Her project were worms that were genetically engineered smarter by implanting a mouse gene called GAP-43.

Li Boynton - Young Scientist award with a prize of $50,000

Her project used bacteria that emitted light to test for contaminants in water.


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Eliza McNitt - Best in Category in Environmental Management with a total prize of $12,000 and a tour of the Large Hadron Collider, world's largest particle accelerator in Switzerland

Philip Streich - 1st place in Materials and Bioengineering with a prize of $3,000 and a $3,000 award from the United States Air Force

Katlin Hornig - 1st place in Behavioral and Social Sciences with a prize of $3,000 and an $8,000 award from the United States Navy

Taylor Wilson - 4th place in Physics and Astronomy with a prize of $1,250

After the book

About a year later, in 2010, the author revisited those she had followed during the Intel ISEF…

Eliza started her freshman year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She is double majoring in environmental science and documentary filmmaking after additionally creating a movie with her friend about Colony Collapse Disorder for a filmmaking competition.


BB had found herself a boyfriend: childhood friend Gunter. Gunter had revealed that he too had a rare disease causing join inflammation called familial mediterranean fever.


Katlin started her freshman year at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, ranked the second best veterinary school in the country behind Cornell. She is majoring in animal sciences.


Philip started his freshman year at Harvard University. In between his classes, he found time to open up a statellite branch of his company, Graphene Solutions, which worked on developing an inexpensive graphene-based solar panel. He also founded a record label, 91 Records, which represented artists around the country.


Sadly, Philip died on September 25, 2012 in an accident at his family's farm. The details of his death were not given.


Sarah started her freshman year at Westminster College. However, on December 19, 2009, she was arrested for distributing ecstasy at a rave. She was given another chance, and did well in her classes, especially math and science.

Shwan started working on another team science fair project.


Taylor was able to meet with high-ranking officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy. They discussed how Taylor's research could be used to detect radioactive materials that terrorists were trying to smuggle into the country. In the Intel ISEF 2010 in San Jose, California, Taylor placed third in Physics and Astronomy.

All images used are from Google. All videos used are from YouTube.