STEM Symposium showcases student research

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Event an annual effort of OFHS science department

Warren Bluhm,

Kids belly up to the “Alien Juice Bar” run by, from left, Trinady Vorpahl, Willamina Peterson and Navalee Bauer at the Oconto Falls High School STEM Symposium on Monday. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

More than 150 science, technology, engineering and math projects are on display at the annual STEM Symposium at Oconto Falls High School on March 4. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

Kailey VanLanen, left, and Lydia Murphy-Hendricks demonstrate with a tennis ball the trebuchet they used to measure trajectory and distance in their “Orange Smackdown” experiment. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics ruled the day Monday evening in the gymnasium and commons of Oconto Falls High School, where hundreds of students shared the results of their research in the school’s annual STEM Symposium.

Seniors Kailey VanLanen and Lydia Murphy-Hendricks explained the results of their “Orange Smackdown” experiment, using their hand-crafted trebuchet — a catapult-like device that uses a heavy counterweight to hurl its payload — to determine the launch angle needed to throw an orange the farthest.

Their attempts showed that the “sweet spot” is when the trebuchet was pulled 80 to 100 degrees off center. A greater or lesser angle was less effective.

Freshmen Arianna Kubsch and Tyllar Porath explained that wrapping a test tube full of pond water with blue cellophane had a detrimental effect on the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water over a five-day period. It was an extension of a classroom exercise that used a different screen, Kubsch said.

The “Alien Juice Bar” in the commons area was popular with kids. Juniors Trinady Vorpahl, Willamina Peterson and Navalee Bauer demonstrated the effects of acidic, base and neutral liquids by encouraging the youngsters to pour vinegar (acid), ammonia (base) or dissolved baking soda (neutral) into a blue liquid to watch it change colors.

The event is the culmination of about a month’s work in and out of the classroom, said science teacher David Brasier about the department’s annual celebration of scientific exploration.

“Students develop their own research in an independent project — they ask a question and do the research to answer that question,” Brasier said. “Traditional science is to do the research, and the next step is reporting it to the public — that’s the piece that gets forgotten so much.”

That next step was the focal point of the three-hour symposium: The students willingly explained their projects to passersby who showed an interest in their displays.

All branches of science were represented – senior T-Jay Thomma and junior Hunter Thompson prepared a display on the development of the Mazda rotary engine (initially conceived by German engineer Felix Wankel, according to Thompson) complete with a computer animation of the engine’s inner workings, while freshmen Weston Borkovec and Noah Hirst explained how they measured the amount of oxygen used by a jar of mealworms, a biology project.

Brasier estimated that 150 to 160 two-person projects were displayed at this year’s symposium, each representing about three to four weeks of research – “minus about a week for all the snow days.”

CORRECTION: Willamina Peterson's name was misspelled in the print edition of the Times Herald. We apologize for the error.