College Park students qualify for international science fair

April 6, 2018 GMT

College Park High School students competed in the Science and Engineering Fair of Houston (SEFH) in February and seven students qualified for the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in May.

Six of the qualifying students are members of the Academy of Science and Technology at College Park.

Dr. Susan Caffery, the academy headmaster, said the school provides STEM education and has stricter requirements for graduation.

“We offer students the opportunity to focus on a STEM education. Our students have additional requirements that are above the state requirements for graduation,” Caffery explained. “Specifically, our students must complete exploration credits each year by attending lectures, tours and independent excursions, and they must take notes in their journal and type a two-page report that includes research on some topic related to the event. Students must do a research project each year.”

Students apply for the academy in the fall of their eighth grade year and are accepted their freshman year.

“All of our ninth grade students take Scientific Research and Design and do a science fair project,” Caffery added. “Beginning in 10th grade students may choose among science fair, Envirothon, Destination Imagination, BEST Robotics, Senior High Engineering Design Competition, or FIRST Robotics. Additionally, our students must complete an 80-hour internship.”

Science is for Everyone

Jill Bohnet, a junior at College Park High School who is interested in pursuing a chemical engineering degree and attending medical school, is not part of the Science Academy but she also qualified for ISEF. Bohnet wanted to create a project that would help solve a problem, and she decided to construct cement by using polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or water bottle waste, and fly ash. Her project, “Repurposing Recycled Materials for Greener, Stronger Cement,” won the Grand Award in Engineering at SEFH in February and qualified her for the ISEF.

“I took recycled plastic water bottle waste and broke it down, and I put it into cement. Cement is the second most widely produced material in the world. By putting it into cement, I made the cement stronger and I was able to use two waste products, which were the plastic water bottles and fly ash, which is a by-product that comes from burning coal,” Bohnet explained. “So I made a superior product that also incorporated two different waste products and reduced CO2 emissions and reduced the amount of water that making the cement consumed, which since it is the second most used material in the world, it actually on a big scale becomes extremely important to conserve water and even small percentages of the CO2 emissions.”

Bohnet explained that she put out a few emails to local corporations and was able to work in a lab setting in Conroe. She also received help from Texas A&M University, which offered to irradiate her materials.

“I was able to use an industry standard process in order to create my materials because I was able to be mentored by someone who does it every single day,” Bohnet said. “First, I took my materials and I found the different ratios for them based on how much fly ash I wanted to be incorporated, cement, how much of the plastic that would need to go into it.”

The final product was a cement mixture that included 15 percent irradiated PET and had a 33 percent increase in compressive strength compared to the control (Portland cement), she said.

“My hope is to eventually have this be standard in the industry because you get to incorporate an extreme problem with all of this waste material that ends up in the landfills. It’s helping to solve a problem that’s becoming extreme for us, especially with CO2 emissions,” Bohnet said. “It’s so much more beneficial for the environment and it’s a superior product.”

Bohnet and the other qualifying College Park students will compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair on May 13-18 in Pittsburgh.