By Kent Singer -
EnergyWise Project rewards students exploring electricity options for science fair Colorado Rural Electric Association’s EnergyWise Project got off to a great start as we initiated one of the first programs under the electric co-ops’ new energy efficiency emphasis: presenting awards at the state science fair.
I was lucky enough to be one of the judges for the Special Awards presented by the Colorado EnergyWise Project at the 58th annual Colorado Science and Engineering Fair. CSEF is an annual event hosted by the College of Natural Sciences & Outreach Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and it provides a forum for Colorado students in grades six through 12 to create science projects and submit them to be judged first at regional science fairs and then CSEF.
This state science fair has numerous categories for projects, including animal sciences, chemistry, environmental sciences, microbiology, and engineering. The EnergyWise Project was particularly interested in the transportation and energy category since one of the goals of EnergyWise is to encourage students to think about energy efficiency and the smart use of energy, particularly electricity. With the financial support of CoBank, one of the financial partners of Colorado’s electric co-ops, we established Special Awards for two students each in the junior and senior divisions with projects related to energy efficiency.
At this year’s fair, I was joined by Stuart Travis, a member of the board of directors of Y-W Electric Association, one of our member co-ops headquartered in Akron. Stuart was a participant in CSEF when he was a student, and his children have also participated in this science fair during their years in middle school and high school.
Stuart and I spent several hours reviewing the projects and talking to the students about their work. I was amazed at the intellectual rigor that had gone into the students’ thinking and their attention to detail in presenting their results. The students had obviously spent many months learning about complicated subjects. They then developed “abstracts,” which set forth a specific scientific question that they tried to answer in their projects and experiments.
During the judging phase I must admit that I thought a lot about that show on television “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” (Ironically, one of the kids used that phrase as the title for his project!) The clear answer is: No. Here are descriptions of a couple of the projects that were created by the winners that Stuart and I chose for the EnergyWise awards.
Ninth grader Kelsey Lindbloom created a project called “Fueling the Future Phase 2: An Investigative Look into the Use of Substrates in a Microbial Fuel Cell.” I understand how fuel cells work, but I was not familiar with the whole notion of a “microbial” fuel cell. The point of Kelsey’s work was to find out what kind of substrate would be the most efficient for feeding “Shewanella putrefaciens” to create small amounts of electric power. Kelsey found that the most efficient substrate was potato starch, contrary to her hypothesis that the best substrate would be maltose.
In another project, Cristian Granados, a sixth grader, tested the hypothesis: “Do I Really Save Energy by Turning Off My Lights?” Cristian tried to answer whether or not it is more energy efficient to turn a lightbulb off and on every 10 seconds or to leave the lightbulb on for 10 seconds. After running tests with different types of lightbulbs, Cristian concluded that fluorescent bulbs used more electricity when turned on and off frequently, whereas incandescent bulbs used more power when left on for long periods of time.
We were glad to present the recipients of the Special Awards with cash prizes and also with scholarships to CREA’s fourth annual Energy Innovations Summit in October. We know that these budding geniuses will no doubt conquer the tall energy challenges that face Colorado and the United States, and we wish them well in their future education and research endeavors.