VWS Students Finish in Top Rankings at Los Angeles County Science and Engineering Fair, Qualify for State Finals
Two teams of Vivian Webb School students received top place awards at the annual Los Angeles County Science and Engineering Fair, with the opportunity to advance to the state finals.
Rebeca Castro ’20, working solo, finished in second place in the physics category with an experiment studying the biomechanics of a step in flamenco dancing. It was entitled “The Biomechanics of the Golpe.”
Castro is an experienced flamenco dancer and wanted to analyze the forces generated by different methods of stomping. With the golpe, dancers are trying to achieve a special noise, but the different methods of stomping can cause injuries. Her experiment measured the different kicks on a force plate to examine the pressure exerted with each kick. She completed this work as her semester project in Advanced Studies in Experimental Physics with teacher Andrew Hamilton.
“Rebeca took an activity she was familiar with and applied physics to it,” explained science teacher Lisa Blomberg who also served as a faculty advisor to the students who entered the contest. Blomberg teaches Advanced Studies in Biotechnology.
Giselle Alrachid ’20 and Caitlin Pender ’20 received third place honors in the plant biology and physiology category for their project – “What is the Closest Relative to the Catasetum Tenebrosum Using DNA Barcoding?”
Catasetum tenebrosum are orchids native to Ecuador and Peru, they grow on trees on the eastern slopes of the Andes. The students’ project started in the Advanced Studies Biotechnology class where the pair were looking to find unique DNA that had never been coded before.
“It was a very ambitious project,” explained Blomberg. “I was very proud of them. They had to repeat trials outside of class hours.”
The team utilized resources at the University of California, Riverside, where they were able to submit DNA to the lab for sequencing.
They also employed equipment at Webb that isn’t normally available to high school students including a thermal cycler that amplifies and isolates DNA.
“We’re very fortunate to have the equipment we have,” said Blomberg. “The advanced studies class really allows for in-depth student exploration.”
Xinlin (Candy) Gao ’20 (who was advised by Webb mathematics and computer science teacher Christina Duron ’08) received an honorable mention in the mathematics and computer sciences category for her work on “Drug Mechanics of Tamiflu Method in Why Targeting M2.”
The projects that Gao, Alrachid and Pender worked on involved bio-informatics and Blomberg stressed that they were able to achieve their results thanks to the computer-modeling they were able to accomplish in the lab at Webb.
Every year, Webb sends students to participate in the Los Angeles County Science and Engineering Fair which showcases talented work from 6th to 12th grade students from more than 150 area schools at the Pasadena Convention Center. In addition to the VWS students, Webb School of California student Yiyi Ouyang ’21 also received an honorable mention in the behavioral/social sciences with his experiment “Measuring the Effects of Isolation on Mice through an Elevated Plus Maze.”
According to Blomberg, research and lab work have become so popular with students that it will become an afternoon activity with the start of the Fall 2019 school year.
“It definitely encourages more involvement in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics),” said Blomberg of the effort to provide young scientists with more time and assistance as they pursue projects in Webb’s state-of-the-art labs.