Credit: Credit: Albemarle County Public Schools

Albemarle County middle and high school students earned 72 awards at the 37th annual Piedmont Regional Science Fair, held earlier this month at John Paul Jones Arena. Among the award recipients were Albemarle High School junior Jee-Ho Kim as a Grand Award winner, and Grand Award runners up, Mriganka Mandal and Sophie Meyer, also Albemarle High School juniors. Overall, high school students in the school division won 14 of the 15 first-place category awards.

Kim’s Environmental Management project, “Examining Manufactured Esterification, Homemade Esterification, and Non-Corroding Coating as Viable Solutions to Fatberg Formation,” analyzed how to solve a multi-million dollar worldwide problem. Fatbergs are deposits of fat, oil and grease that cause major sewer blockages. Kim focused on the use of non-corrosive coatings to remove existing fatbergs and prevent future formations.

Mandal, who was a Grand Award recipient a year ago for a cancer research project, teamed with Meyer this year to study “MRI-Based Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Risk Assessment Aid Using Machine Learning.” The goal of the Medicine & Health Sciences project was to better understand the dangers associated with thickening heart muscle.

On its website, the science fair describes its mission as both educating and motivating students. It notes that China and India graduate 14 engineers for every engineer who graduates in the United States. It adds that the fair can “help inspire many of these students to pursue careers in science or engineering and keep our region and the USA competitive internationally.”

Students from Albemarle High School’s Math, Engineering & Science Academy (MESA) finished first in 13 categories with projects designed to improve quality of life, from health to the environment to the arts and athletics. Among the many interesting award-winning projects were “Expanding Musical Instruction Through Self-Playing Instruments,” “The Effect of Visual and Auditory Observation on the Retention of Language,” and “The Role of Internet Search Volume in the Stock Market.”

Some projects carried in-home appeal, such as one by Jeremiah Louhanapessy, who studied the effect that breakfast has on adolescent memory and attention, or the one by Kelsey Myers and Reese Quillian that looked at improving the structural integrity of umbrellas.

In addition to high schoolers, middle school students at Sutherland won seven awards, including a first place in the Junior Division by Alan Li and Logan Cypser for their Computer Science project, “Pumpkin Pi.” The students designed and built a computer that would cost less than $100, run software applications and browsers, and include gaming capability.

Western Albemarle High School students also earned seven awards, with Hannah Leeb winning first place in the Microbiology category for her project, “The Five Second Rule.” She set out to confirm whether food left on the floor for five seconds or less was safe for consumption. She placed gummy bears on a floor for five and ten seconds, analyzing the bacteria that grew from the different exposure times. She found no difference in bacteria growth, but slightly more fungal growth on the food that was on the floor for ten seconds.

“Our students always gear up with great enthusiasm for the science fair every year. It’s such a high-value opportunity, because students get a chance to use their research skills while broadening their knowledge base. The challenge is to find a real-world problem that needs a solution. Once our students get that focus, the fun begins. I have no doubt that some of their ideas will either be implemented directly or become the seed for future solutions,” said Tony Wayne, MESA’s director.

Winners in the regional competition will compete in the state science fair, which will be held on April 14 in Roanoke, and winners in that competition will qualify for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which is being held in Pittsburgh on May 14.

Kim, as a Grand Award recipient, automatically qualifies for the international fair.

In addition to Leeb, Kim (who won first place in the Environmental Management category), and Mandal and Meyer (who were first in the Medicine & Health Sciences category), first-place winners in the Senior Division, all from MESA, included:

A list of all special award winners and category winners in both the junior and senior divisions is available on the Piedmont Regional Science Fair website at