When Olathe North freshman Andrea Dahl made plans to spend spring break in Florida with a friend, she had no idea she’d be a contender in the 63rd Greater Kansas City Science & Engineering Fair.
Anyway, spring break with her family would be boring — they’d be visiting prospective colleges for her older brother, Ryan.
So when both Andrea’s and Ryan’s names were called Saturday as two of the science fair’s three grand award winners, Andrea, 14, was in a car headed for the Panhandle.
“I asked her how she felt. She said, ‘Amazing,’ ” said her mother, Angela Dahl, who reached Andrea by phone after the award ceremony at Bartle Hall.
As grand award winners, Andrea and Ryan, along with Madison Nasteff, a junior at Liberty High School, have the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles in May to compete in the Olympics of school science contests, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
The three were selected from among the five winners of the Pioneers in Science Awards, each of whom had the top project in their category. The other Pioneer winners were Natasha Rickel and Katherine Calhoun, both of Shawnee Mission West. The science fair is conducted by Science Pioneers, a Kansas City nonprofit organization that provides educational programs for students and teachers throughout the area. This year, 1,141 students entered 882 projects.
Andrea’s research found that fruit flies with certain genes regulating sleep patterns lived longer. The research fits in with her daughter’s passion for ballet dancing, her mother said. “Diet and sleep are two important things to dancers.”
Ryan, 17, an Olathe North senior, won for his research showing that a certain protein was capable of stimulating the growth of cultured mouse heart cells. He said he was drawn to this research because heart disease is such a prevalent problem.
“I would caution against saying you could put this in humans,” he said. “This is the first step on a long road to discovery.”
He plans to study biochemistry after entering college this fall. Eventually, he hopes to go to medical school.
Nasteff, 17, still has another year of high school ahead, but will likely study computer or mechanical engineering in college. Her winning project, a low-cost ultrasonic guidance system for parallel parking, combines a bit of both.
“I’m not very good at parallel parking, so I thought I’d make something to make my life easier,” she said.
Her system uses ultrasound detectors attached by magnets to the sides and back of a car. Inside the car, an LCD screen gives the driver instructions. A buzzer warns if the car is about to hit a bumper. The system costs about $88.
She already has a patent pending on her invention.