Five Inglewood Unified students competing in a recent science competition waited for what felt like an eternity before getting the good news: this year’s first-place prize belongs toMorningside High.
The Mathematics, Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) team bested 10 otherhigh schools facing off in the experimental portion of the Robert H. Herndon Memorial Science Competition in El Segundo. Established in 1977 by the Aerospace Corp., the annual event invites teams of students from around Los Angeles County to demonstrate their scientific prowess in front of a panel of professional judges.
For the Morningside juniors – who each earned $600 cash prizes – the win validated their hard work and meticulous research on the use of ferrofluid, a magnetic, oil-based liquid, and a neodymium magnet to clean up ocean oil spills. They called their project Nanoclean – a reference to the study of nanotechnology.
“We did so much research we were like experts at it,” said Morningside’s Kymiah Charles, who earned the prize with classmates Cristina Berron, Alondra Cervantes, Carlos Diaz and Jahaziel Garcia.
The students were careful and precise in their research, which they explained and illustrated in detail on a presentation board now kept in Morningside’s MESA room. But they also believe their delivery – they performed a short skit during their six-minute May 22 presentation – factored into the win.
“Our teachers gave us tips to be creative, be eccentric, and don’t be monotone,” Kymiah said.
The team wanted the judges to understand the concept of their experiment and also enjoy the presentation, Jahaziel added, which is why he and his classmates incorporated a bit of humor. “We made the judges laugh and we laughed,” he said.
The team’s first-place prize underscores the high level of academic rigor of Morningside High’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program. A team from the high school participated in the Robert Herndon science competition for the first time in 2011, and since 2012 has won second- and third-place honors in the experiment and essaydivisions.
Now, Principal Reginald Sirls has a first-place award to hang in his office.
The students spent months working on their project under the direction of Jane Hang, a math teacher who serves as the MESA team advisor, and with the support of Science Department Chairwoman Tracy Allen, an AP science teacher who first met the students as freshmen.
In fact, it was Allen who pushed for the MESA team members and about a dozen other Morningside students to attend a weekend-long, all-expenses-paid program in December at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At the so-called Chips Camp, the teens learned the basics of top-down nanofabrication processes and designed their own experiments while working in the university’s spacious “cleanroom,” which can accommodate up to 350 researchers at any given time and hosts a wide variety of thin-film processing equipment.
Allen said the camp left the MESA team well prepared for last month’s Aerospace competition. She was pleased they had the experience.
“I wanted the best for them. I wanted to expose them to opportunities other students get exposed to,” she said.
“Morningside High School is raising the bar. The steps taken to incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering and Math into the curriculum has allowed highly talented students to unveil their skills in research, team collaboration, exploratory field trips, hand-on labs and competitions,” Allen continued.
Hang, too, was thrilled with the win.
“We just put so much effort into our experiment,” Hang said before Kymiah finished her thought.
“When we found out we won,” Kymiah said, “we were just ecstatic.”