By: Professor Jennifer Musa

Southern Tier Scholastic Science Fair Promotes
Student Exploration and Discovery

For nearly twenty years, the Southern Tier Scholastic Science Fair (STSSF) has provided local elementary, middle, and high school students with the valuable opportunity to design, implement, and present an original research project. On Saturday, March 16 the STSSF, hosted at SUNY Broome, welcomed over sixty students from twelve schools to celebrate a day of science and exploration. 

The STSSF is dedicated to encouraging students to pursue and excel in scientific and technological inquiries through individual and team science projects. The Fair provides a forum for developing academic skills, such as conducting an independent scientific investigation, writing research papers, public speaking, preparing an organized display, and becoming familiar with the scientific method or engineering method. In addition, the event is intended to foster awareness, appreciation, and recognition of the importance of science to career opportunities, academic achievement, and lifelong success in a technological society.

Science projects in the Applied Technology Building.

Students’ science projects in the Applied Technology Building.

At the 2024 STSSF, with help from an amazing team of local educators and professionals, local students presented their research findings and had the chance to earn great awards and prizes. When they were not busy presenting their project to the judges, students had the opportunity to participate in two educational hands-on workshops.

In the morning, students participated in the “Healing Power of Chemistry” workshop presented by Binghamton University’s ChOP (Chemistry Outreach Program) volunteers. At this workshop, STSSF participants learned about acids and bases, the pH scale, and the medicines that help alleviate acid reflux and acidosis in humans. 

In the afternoon, Fair participants enjoyed the “STEM to the Rescue” workshop. STSSF participants engaged in multiple activities that centered around the idea that science comes to the rescue when problems arise.  The “UV Beads” activity introduced students to the concepts of UV rays and sunscreen protection. Participants were able to make a bracelet with beads that reveal certain colors when in the presence of ultraviolet light. The “Engineering Design” activity showcased projects created by SUNY Broome students like a machine that sends Morse code with the push of a button. 

Students watch the wound simulation.

Stop The Bleed Workshop used a wound simulator to show student show to quickly treat a severe bleed.

Also featured at the afternoon workshop was the “Stop the Bleed’ activity that allowed participants to witness a severe bleed using a wound simulator and simulated blood. STSSF participants were given hands-on practice with how to control the bleed by packing the wound and using a tourniquet. Finally, the “Shrinky Dinks” activity gave participants a chance to show their creative side by creating a keychain out of polystyrene with the logo “STEM to the Rescue: STSSF 2024” on it. Participants learned about thermoplastics and were able to bring home a Fair souvenir.

After a few years of the challenge of trying to hold a fair virtually and then engage student to return to an in-person event, the STSSF Committee was thrilled to see so many students returning to SUNY Broome and interacting with each other. “It was so heartwarming to see how absolutely supportive all these kids were of each other,” says SUNY Broome student and Fair volunteer, Hiba Khan. 

Some of the STSSF volunteers who helped put on the event have a personal history with the STSSF. “I first participated in the STSSF when I was in fifth grade,” says SUNY Broome Community College Computer Science major, Chad Cole. “I remember my project was about whether having a good breakfast could increase texting speed. I had a great experience when I participated in the Fair, and I am happy to be able to serve as a volunteer and support the next generation of young scientists.” 

Other volunteers were impressed with the caliber of the students and the projects. “It was interesting seeing these young minds developing confidence through the entire process of presenting their research to the judges,” says SUNY Broome student and volunteer, Rob Farmer. “I was also impressed with the level of critical thinking many students were displaying amongst their peers.” 

High schooler Meenakshi Chakravadhanula stands with her project.

Meenakshi Chakravadhanula, a student at Vestal High School, with her project “Effectiveness of Vibration Dampeners in Absorbing the Force on Strings of a Tennis Racket.”

The student participants also enjoyed their Fair experience. “It was a fun day participating in the fair and I learned a lot from the other projects,” said Fair participant Meenakshi Chakravadhanula, a student at Vestal High School. “It was interesting doing an experiment, the results of which actually help me to understand a sport I play.” Meenakshi’s project was titled: Effectiveness of Vibration Dampeners in Absorbing the Force on Strings of a Tennis Racket. Along with a special award from Delta Engineers, Architects, and Land Surveyors, Meenakshi’s project won a gold medal and was chosen to advance to the New York State Science Congress.

Meenakshi’s mother, a Professor of Engineering at SUNY Broome, served as a judge at the Fair. “I thoroughly enjoyed being a judge for the 5th – 8th grade category,” said Dr. Sushma Madduri. “It was amazing to see the depth of pursuit and curiosity for these kids, who went to different lengths to understand and present their STEM related problem statements. Their confidence taught me something!”

Judge Dr. Sushma Madduri watches a student present their science project.

Dr. Sushma Madduri, Engineering Professor at SUNY Broome, listens to a student’s presentation.

Meenakshi and her mother were not the only family members at the Fair. Sisters Layla and Arabella also enjoyed the STSSF experience together. “I met a lot of new people that share my love for science at the science fair. I really liked how kind all the judges were and think that this is a great experience for future scientists,” said Layla Laine, a middle school student from Chenango Forks Middle School. Layla’s project Good Strokes for Your Heart won a gold medal and a special award from Wegmans.

Student Layla Laine holds her awards

Chenango Forks middle schooler Layla Laine with holds her awards for her project “Good Strokes for Your Heart.”

Layla’s sister Arabella, a student at Chenango Forks Elementary School, presented her project called Slimy Science at the Fair. “I thought that the experiments we did were really fun and the teachers and volunteers at SUNY Broome were very fun and welcoming. I loved making my own science project and getting the chance to present it to some very nice people.” Layla’s heard work paid off with a gold medal and a special award from Lockheed Martin.

Arabella and Layla’s research was supported by their mom, Sabrina, who shared her appreciation of the experience offered at the STSSF. “As both a parent and a science teacher this event is invaluable to young students as it allows them to explore their scientific interests and gives them the chance to present their own work in front of professionals. This event has given my own children so much confidence and experience that they wouldn’t normally get. The science activities that the fair committee plan for the students during the fair are wonderful as well.”

Another teacher who encourages her students to participate in the STSSF is Binghamton High School Science teacher, Carolyn Wilczynski. Carolyn has been bringing her students to the STSSF for over a decade. “The STSSF is a great way for students to ask a question, design an experiment, and have fun. We are always working to meet the New York State Science Standards, and the STSSF has been meeting them for many years. I always encourage my students to participate.” Carolyn also shared that during the fair she was texting a former student who was a STSSF participant and is now in graduate school.

Arabella Laine, an elementary student at Chenango Forks, stand with her project titled "Slimy Science."

Arabella Laine, an elementary student at Chenango Forks, stand with her project titled “Slimy Science.”

The STSSF also appreciate the community members who volunteer to serve as judges year after year. Professor Emeritus, Karen Goodman, who taught at SUNY Broome for 34 years in the department of Physical Sciences and Physics, continues to volunteer her time to work with young scientists who are presenting their research at the Fair. The Southern Tier Scholastic Science Fair gives students a valuable opportunity to investigate an area of science that interests them and to exhibit and discuss their work with more experienced scientists who provide encouragement.  The Fair also provides the judges an interesting, informative, and fun experience interacting with these student scientists,” says Goodman. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone!”

The STSSF would not be possible without many months of hard work from organizers and volunteers. For those who donate their time and energy to make this event special for the student participants, it is well worth it. “STEM and Health Science related educational outreach provides students with enriching opportunities to become more familiar with STEM, in terms of how it relates to their daily lives and with respect to possible future career paths,” says STSSF Chairperson, Dr. Phyllis O’Donnell. “It also reinforces the fact that evidence-based information is critical for helping us to tackle and solve problems.”

The STSSF includes private industry, government, service clubs and local individuals in the educational and support process. Major sponsors of the fair include SUNY Broome Community College, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Miller Auto Team, UHS, Gault Auto, and The Triple Cities-NY Chapter of Sigma Xi.

The STSSF Committee would like to thank the multiple organizations and individuals whose donations make the fair a great success every year. We would also like to thank all the students who participated and the teachers who provided guidance and support. We hope to see you all back again for the 2025 STSSF. Go science!

More information, photos, and a complete list of this year’s awards can be found on the Southern Tier Scholastic Science Fair website.