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Crowds turn out for annual science fair

The 2013 Tuolumne County Science Fair wrapped up Wednesday, with two students winning top honors and four chosen to enter a state competition in April. 

Sixth-grader Bailee Ankrom from the Sierra Waldorf School won the Karen Bakerville Smith award for her project, the impressively titled “Determining the Antioxidant Effects of Beta Carotene and Vitamin C on Agrobacterium Tumefaciens Tumors as Seen on Mammoth Sunflowers.”

The second top award went to Soulsbyville Elementary seventh-grader Jessamyn Skutches, the daughter of two local science teachers, for “Betta Data” — which tested five betta fish to see if they could learn a maze. They did, as proven by their improving finishing times. 

Dozens of contest entries, from students in fifth grade and up, were on display at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds Wednesday. They were finalists from smaller competitions at each Tuolumne County school.

The Tuolumne County Science Fair dates back to the late 1960s and became a passion for Karen Bakerville Smith, a curriculum consultant for the Tuolumne County Office of Education. 

Smith traveled to other counties to study how science fairs were set up, according to Cheryl Barton, director of student and media services at the Office of Education. 

When Smith died in a car accident in 1979, the office started the Karen Bakerville Smith Perpetual Science Fair awards to honor her contributions. The students’ schools display the trophies for the entire year, Barton said.

Ankrom and Skutches will both have their projects entered into the statewide science fair, taking place April 15 and 16 at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. 

The other students going on to the state contest are Columbia Elementary seventh-grader Lynsey Gookin, for “What Leavening Agent Makes Cake Rise Higher?”; Soulsbyville Elementary seventh-grader Levi Houghton for “A ‘Smashing’ Eggsperiment”; and Sierra Waldorf sixth-grader Grace Doyle for an experiment on plant growth. 

Volunteer judges, including retired teachers and local scientists, ranked the projects in age and content categories. Each entry received a gold, blue, red, or green ribbon bought by the Sonora Lions Club, and the best projects in each category also got awards. 

Among the judges was retired spacecraft engineer Marty Gerbasi, of Sonora, who said the science fair helps students develop critical-thinking skills.

“It helps them … develop a logical way of looking at problems in life in the future,” Gerbasi said. 

The Tuolumne County Science Fair alternates each year with the history fair, which has students choose historical topics such as women’s suffrage and prepare projects on them.

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