Grand time for students at Science and Engineering Fair

One of those up late at night and jittery as 1,300 area students prepared for this year’s Greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair was a little fellow named C. Elegans.

With all that coffee given him by Megan Smith, you could hardly blame a young nematode or, if you prefer, roundworm.

Still, he assisted the 17-year-old Shawnee Mission West High student in getting one of the fair’s three Grand Awards. They were presented Saturday at the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center to some of the area’s brightest for imagination, creativeness and just plain smarts.

Winners of the Grand Awards get an all-expense-paid trip to the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held in Pittsburgh in May.

Union Station was swarmed late last week with students from 116 public, private, parochial and home schools setting up and displaying 985 projects. Among them were:

• Smith’s “The Effect of Coffee Extract and Caffeine on the Locomotory Rate and Basal Slowing Response of the LRRK2 Transgenic Model of Parkinson’s Disease” suggested caffeine can help the movement of sufferers of the illness.

“I’ve always been curious about the way things work,” said Megan, headed to the University of Pennsylvania this fall. “Students should take advantage of their own natural curiosity and try to ask their own questions.”

• Sarina Farb from Ahimsa Home School, “A Comparison of the Endocrine Disrupting Potential Exhibited by Environmentally Relevant Doses of Bisphenol A and Bisphenol S In Vitro in T-470 Breast Cancer Cells.”

Farb, who plans to study biochemistry at Grinnell College beginning this fall, looked at Bisphenol S, a chemical used in plastic products after studies showed that Bisphenol A was a carcinogen.

Bisphenol S has been little tested, however, and the 18-year-old’s findings, using cash register receipts that contain BPS, suggest it could be more dangerous than Bisphenol A.

• Zach Nason, at 14 the youngest Grand Award winner, is home schooled. With “The Effect of Differing Ratios of Vermicompost to Soil on the Nutrient Quality of Lettuce,” Nason researched how compost affected potassium, phosphorus and calcium in the leafy vegetable.

Smith, Farb and Nason also picked up Pioneers in Science Awards, as did Hunter Faris and Jenna Baber, both of West Platte High School.

In addition, three students, including Farb, were finalists in the Biotechnology Research Competition. The other two were Vivek Menon of the Blue Valley CAPS program and Taelar Stevens of Lincoln College Preparatory High School.

They will present their research May 9 to the KansasBio Board of Directors for the opportunity to advance to the U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge in Boston.