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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Imagination blooms at science fair

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Bubbly seventh-grader Ren Ishii made a dollhouse for her science project with miniature wallpaper, little windows and tiny furniture.

Wayland Sakamoto, a seventh-grader at St. Anne's School in Kane'ohe, presented his "Evolution of Elevator" display with a working elevator.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

It's really cool because of the photovoltaic fan system she wired through a motherboard to handle power generated by the movement of the phosphorous and silicon electrons of differing valences.

"I thought soldering was a really exciting thing to do," said Ishii, of Kawananakoa Middle School, "because before I wasn't allowed to use hot things or sharp things, and now I get to do it because it's educational and it's science."

McKinley High sophomore Diana Wan, 15, showed pictures of a cat, a boat, a flower, a star, and words such as "fish" and "football" and "butterfly" to prove that images are more readily retained by short-term memory than words.

And Duane Fukumoto, a St. Patrick School eighth-grader, fired up a blowtorch in his back yard to demonstrate that clothes dryer lint is superior to paper towels or old newspapers as a motor oil absorbent for conversion to H-Power.

That's not even counting his study of the Environmental Benefits of Toilet Paper (no wisecracks from you kids in the back row — it's about oil filters).

At the 45th Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair, 480 young minds compete for almost as many prizes worth more than $60,000.

The whiz kids setting up their displays at Blaisdell Center yesterday are the cream of a crop of 6,000 junior scientists and engineers who competed in school and district fairs.

Mysteries explained

• For a look at experiments and studies from nearly 500 of Hawai'i's beautiful young minds, the Hawaii Academy of Science opens the State Science and Engineering Fair, free to the public, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Blaisdell Center.

• Sample topics include "The Taste of Color," "Unknown Waianae Valley Heiau," "Cervical Cancer Cells," "Second Hand Smoke Effects on Tomato Plant," "Antibubbles," "Blackjack Strategy," "Artificial Intelligence," "North Shore Air Pollution," "Ka-Boom or Ka-Bounce Study of Playground Surfaces," "When Good Cats Go Bad (Intercat Aggression)," "Lava Lamps," and "Anthocyanin Dye Sensitized Photoelectrochemical Solar Cells Based on Nanocrystalline Oxide Semiconductor Films of Titanium Dioxide."

• The award ceremony will be held at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow in nearby Pikake Hall.

After the votes are cast today by celebrity judges, including space-walking astronaut Richard Linnehan, about 20 top Hawai'i winners will go to the internationals to meet children from around the world in a friendly battle of wits.

In a era wracked by terrorism and a state constantly dinged for low school test scores, fair director Shiyana Thenabadu said, "the kids that are here represent our future."

"Maybe they have some solutions that we haven't thought of. Maybe they are coming up with some ideas we haven't thought of."

The students have an energy and capacity for delight that some of their elders may have lost.

Ren is so excited she cannot sit still. "I enjoyed finding out how the solar panel actually works, and doing the experiment," she said. "Knowing that I made the house, that I learned how to do things like electricians do and I'm in the seventh grade and I could actually understand it, and how to make it work and how to troubleshoot.

"I was, like, shocked, and in the end and my project was selected, I was like, 'Oh my gosh!'

"Last year, I really, really wanted to be like an engineer, even though I didn't know what an engineer was, or a chemist," she continued, "but now I like robots — I think they're cool — and building things."

Diana said she also finds the excitement is in the process, not whether she wins an award. "I think I have already reached the finish line, completing this. I felt this amazing relief just putting this project display up here," said Diana, whose father, a chef, emigrated to the United States from China.

A cheerleader at McKinley, she said people who are fascinated with science shouldn't be pigeonholed.

"I think I am pretty outgoing, I don't find myself confined to one area," she said.

"There shouldn't be a definition for what is a nerd or what is not, because we all have different qualities that stretch beyond the stereotype."

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.