“I wasn’t sure we could pull it off. But we did it...we really did it!” exclaimed Falmouth Academy Science Chair Jill Reves the morning after the school’s 33rd annual Science and Engineering Fair was held virtually in response to the ongoing pandemic. The pivot to an online fair was an enormous and risky undertaking by both students and faculty, all of whom played an important role leading up to and during the February 18th fair. Head of School Matt Green deemed the event a great success and referred to it as “a testament to the ingenuity of our students and especially our faculty.”
After five months of intense preparation, more than 200 FA students in grades 7 through 11 gathered via the online platform zFairs to present the results of their work to nearly 100 expert judges. Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Marine Biological Laboratory, the USGS, SEA, Harvard, and Woodwell Climate Research joined other professionals working in a variety of scientific and related fields to evaluate the students’ projects. Even in this time of Covid when many local scientific institutions and laboratories are closed to the public with their scientists working mainly from home, Falmouth Academy paired over twenty-five students with scientific mentors in a related field. “The preparation for the fair was much as it always has been,” says Margaret Lowell ’23. “I was able to have a mentor who I met with multiple times over Zoom who advised me throughout my project.” Lowell studied the effect of acidic ocean pHs on lobster shells with Dr. Anna Michel of the Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Judges spent half an hour or more with each of their six assigned students, quizzing, evaluating, and encouraging the budding scientists to defend their work, think critically about their results, and propose future directions for their research. “Talking with judges is one of my favorite parts of science fair, “ said first-place winner Natalie Todd-Weinstein ’21. “Connecting with judges virtually is very different from being with them in person, but I am so grateful that we were able to have a science fair this year. Covid has taken so much normalcy away from us, that it was really nice to have something similar to "normal."
While it couldn’t replace the energy and excitement that comes with the in-person judging that usually takes place in the Falmouth Academy gymnasium, the zFairs online platform worked well, Reves noted. Each project was evaluated by three judges, totaling 600 online chats during the day-long fair. Students met their judges face-to-face in chaperoned online chat rooms where they summarized their data and shared detailed slides, graphs, and images.
“The virtual platform worked really well from my end,” remarked judge Bill Waite, a scientist at USGS. “I had been worried there would be extra angst about techno glitches, but gosh – the students all seemed more relaxed than in person! I also enjoyed how many of the students I judged chose projects connected with a hobby of theirs. So many cool things to learn, especially when it’s part of their life in general...I can only imagine the Herculean effort from so many people that went into pulling it off!”
Taleena Gonnea ’26, a first-time science fair participant, also had good things to say about the online event, “The process was very well done! It was very organized and other than waiting to present, it went well. I was very impressed with the virtual fair.”
Falmouth Academy is grateful for the ongoing broad support of scores of local organizations in the scientific and business communities, whose generous contributions made prizes possible, and whose employees gave their time and talent to mentoring and judging students.
Sixty-five prizes, scholarships, and honorable mentions were awarded to middle and upper school students. Fifteen upper-school projects will advance to the Southeastern MA Regional Science and Engineering Fair held at Bridgewater State University on March 16th. Three students placed first and won scholarships and prizes from local scientific institutions and organizations.
Zachary Crampton ’22 was awarded the A. Lawrence Peirson III Scholarship given by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for “Studying the Presence of Microplastics in Cape Cod Oysters.“ Crampton also received the Salt Pond Areas Bird Sanctuary Scholarship.
Natalie Todd-Weinstein ’21 received the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) scholarship for “Dosage Reduction Models on Pogonomyrmex for the Treatment of Addiction." Todd-Weinstein also received the Robert B. Gordon prize.
Sam Kellogg ’23 was awarded the Sea Education Association (SEA) Scholarship for “Investigations into Atmospheric Water Harvesting.” Kellogg also received the H. Walcott Brown prize.
Other notable prize winners include:
Sarah Thieler ‘22 of Falmouth who placed second for “Distribution of Deep-Sea Red Crabs in Gilbert Canyon.” Thieler also received the Falmouth Water Stewards prize.
Howard Keeler ’22 of Rochester placed third for “The Effect of Rainfall on Water Quality in Buzzards Bay.” Keeler also received a 2nd Place Salt Ponds Areas Bird Sanctuary prize.
Jackson Gierhart ’25 of Marion placed first in middle school for, “Fueling the Future - The Effects of Biofuel on Plant Growth.” Gierhart also received the Robert B. Gordon prize for middle school.
Aubryn Dubois ‘25 of Rochester and Marion placed first in middle school for “The Effect of Changing pH in the Ocean on the Growth of Algae.” Dubois also received the Salt Ponds Areas Bird Sanctuary prize for middle school.