By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - The next generation of scientists filled three floors of a college building last week to show "Ingenuity through Inquiry."
More than 280 middle- and high-school projects were entered in this year's St. Lucie County Regional Science and Engineering Fair, held at the Kight Center on the Indian River State College campus in Fort Pierce. The science fair is now in its 24th year.
Projects ranged from the effect of electromagnets on ants to designing full-scale hovercrafts.
All 14 middle schools and K-8s were represented, as well as the county's six high schools, Renaissance Charter School and Olivet Private Academy School.
"We're excited to be here," said Cristina Veresan, curriculum supervisor for K-12 science in St. Lucie County.
With a partnership with IRSC this year, the science fair took up the first three floors of the Kight Center. Junior-level science projects took the main and second floors, while senior-level projects occupied the third floor.
"We wanted to create a Renaissance year for the science fair," she said. "There's such a mix here, all the disciplines are represented."
In all, 13 fields of science from social science to zoology sat next to each other.
This year also had a record number of judges.
"More than 60 judges representing local science institutions judged this year," Ms. Veresan said. "We have scientists from Harbor Branch (Institute), University of Florida, Torrey Pines, the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute and more. We really rely on the local science community to be judges for the students."
This year, VGTI also stepped up to become grand sponsor of the event.
"The scientific leadership at VGTI Florida is committed to supporting educational events such as local and regional science fairs," said John Schatzle, director of scientific affairs at VGTI. "This fostering of creative activity is crucial in getting young people interested in science."
The projects were open for the public to view on Feb. 6. The next day, students came to stand by their projects and answer questions during the judging. The winning projects were announced in a special ceremony on Feb. 9.
The junior and senior divisions each received a first-, second- and third- place award for each scientific category. Of all the projects, 14 were selected to participate in the Florida State Science and Engineering Fair in Lakeland in April, and another two projects will go on the International Science and Engineering Fair in Pennsylvania in May.
Also, an $8,000 scholarship from Florida Atlantic University Honors College was given to each Florida State Science and Engineering Fair finalist.
Harbor Branch also offered a $1,000 scholarship, and IRSC offered a $500 Research Coast Career Pathways Innovation award.
In addition, 62 special awards were given to specific scientific projects from organizations such as the American Meteorological Society, the Society for In Vitro Biology, and Yale Science and Engineering Association.
"We are extremely proud of the hard work of all the students who have participated in science projects at all levels," said Michael Lannon, superintendent of St. Lucie County Schools.
"We are also very appreciative of our partners in the scientific community who have served as judges, mentors and provided encouragement for students interested in pursuing careers in the sciences, especially as our region emerges as the Research Coast."