Taos students shine in regional science competition

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Several Taos-area students took home honors at the Northeastern New Mexico Regional Science Fair held March 11 at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas. Students from Taos Middle School, Taos Academy, Taos High School and home schools participated in the annual event. The top two award winners in each category have been invited to compete at the New Mexico State Science and Engineering Fair March 31-April 1 on the campus of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.

Indigo Acosta, a ninth-grader at Taos High School, won a first-place award in the senior division of materials science and a best in show at the event. Ariana Baca, a Taos High junior, won first place in the senior division of animal sciences and was named alternate best of show.

Best in show recipients are awarded an expense-paid trip to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which occurs May 14-19 in Los Angeles, California. The alternate is in line to compete at the international fair should the top two best in show competitors become unable to compete or are advanced to internationals from the state competition.

Acosta essentially “sheared off a single layer of graphene” using resonant frequencies, an idea that sprang out of researching Nikola Tesla’s oscillator and watching a show on the Science Channel, he said. “It’s just like silicon in the 1950s. Graphene will be another revolution in ... industry,” he said. Yet “most other methods [to make graphene] use heavy chemicals or radioactive materials,” he said, meaning scientists are actively looking for smarter and more sustainable ways of getting their hands on the substance.

That type of project is right in line with what science fair coordinator Laura Tenorio aims for in the program.

“We are striving to take a small-town science lab and make it so much larger. Even by using secondhand materials, it gives the kids a better opportunity to explore at a higher level. Instead of the basic volcanoes and which plant grows better, we want them to be able to go forth into science, mathematics and engineering, where they can really explore the new realms out there,” she said.

Another student also used resonant frequencies to create a firefighting drone, while Baca tested synthetic antibiotics versus traditional roots and herbs of Northern New Mexico, noting that herbal remedies have a place in health care considering the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A total of 50 competitors from Taos Middle School, one from Taos Academy and 10 high school students competed at this event with more than 200 other participants, including Taos’ biggest rival, Los Alamos, according to Tenorio.

Also participating in the regional science fair were 10 students from Anansi Charter School and students from Taos Charter School, two of whom were invited to the state competition as well.

Top finishers included:

First place, Junior Division: Jocelyn Gutierrez, biomedical engineering; Rose Osborne, energy – chemical

Second place, Junior Division: Ella Green, plant sciences; Abdul Khweis, biomedical engineering; Ciara Murphy, biomedical and health sciences; Aron Rivera, microbiology; Kelly Tonrey, animal sciences

Third place, Junior Division: Britney Hsu, environmental engineering; Haven Hulsey, animal sciences; Mikayla L. Martinez (Taos Academy), cellular and molecular biology; Yazmin Rodriguez, chemistry

First place, Senior Division: Indigo Acosta, materials sciences; Ariana Baca, animal sciences; Andrea Chin-Lopez, biomedical and health sciences; Joshua Fambro, environmental engineering; Sierra Ferguson, computational biology and informatics; Delaney Galligan, biomedical engineering; Ashley Martinez, microbiology

Second place, Senior Division: Daniel Cordova, engineering mechanics; Zachary Ginn, cellular and molecular biology; Cameron Gonzales, earth and environmental

Junior Academy of Science Paper Competition: Britney Hsu, second place, Junior Division

Best in show: Indigo Acosta

Alternate best in show: Ariana Baca

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