State Science + Technology Fair of Iowa attracts 545 young researchers

AMES, Iowa -- Peter Yin, a 15-year-old sophomore at Ames High School, has been studying green tea since seventh grade.

He can tell you it's effective at reducing mouth bacteria. He can tell you it can counteract some of the antibiotic resistance of bacteria. He can tell you it stops bacteria from transferring genetic material from one cell to another. And he's working very hard these days to determine the molecular mechanism stopping that genetic transfer.

Ask about that last project and Yin, whose parents are scientists at Iowa State University, will tell you he's been in the lab testing protein and gene expression.

It's all part of building what he hopes will be another top project for the annual State Science + Technology Fair of Iowa.

Yin, who won last year's high school competition at the fair, will be one of 545 sixth through 12th graders gathering March 27-28 at Iowa State University for the state's top science fair. The students will come from all over Iowa to show off their studies of wind turbines, diabetes, soil erosion, bridge structures, diaper absorbency, greenhouse gases and hundreds of other subjects.

The public can review those projects and meet the students from 12 to 5 p.m. Friday, March 27, and 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, at Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum and Scheman Building.

The public is also invited to hear space journalist Andrew Chaikin, the author of "A Man on the Moon," a chronicle of the Apollo moon missions and the basis for HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" miniseries. Chaikin will speak about "A Passion for Mars" at 7 p.m. Friday, March 27, in Hilton Coliseum.

And the public is invited to two award ceremonies on Saturday: special awards will be presented 8 to 9:30 a.m. and the fair's grand awards will be presented at 5 p.m.

There will be some grand awards to hand out: The fair's top senior student will win a $7,000 scholarship sponsored by the Iowa Space Grant Consortium. The consortium will also award two $3,500 scholarships to the fair's runner-up senior students. The Iowa Energy Center will award scholarships of $5,000, $2,500 and $1,250 for exceptional energy projects. And the Iowa Biotechnology Association will award five $2,000 scholarships for the best use of biotechnology.

The fair will also send winners to three bigger competitions: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Reno, Nev.; the National FFA Agriscience Fair in Indianapolis and the International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering and Environment) Project Olympiad in Houston.

This year's fair will present close to 400 awards worth nearly $80,000.

Andrea Spencer, the fair's director and a 1993 winner of Iowa's top science fair, has high hopes for the students competing this year.

"I hope that through their discussions with the judges they have a better understanding of science," she said. "And I hope that their interest in science is enhanced because of their experience at the fair."

Yin said he's enjoyed the sense of accomplishment he gets every time he presents his research to a science fair judge. And so a science career is something he's thinking about.