Jon Austria/The Daily Timesat Heights Middle School on Saturday.
Jon Austria/The Daily Times at Heights Middle School on Saturday. (Jon Austria)
FARMINGTON — For anyone curious about what San Juan County science students are capable of, a gymnasium full of projects showed a whole lot of promise and talent.

The Farmington Municipal Schools' District Science and Engineering Fair kicked off this weekend, packing the gym at Heights Middle School with over 200 projects by K-12 students.

Around 25 judges swarmed around the projects with clipboards and pencils, evaluating the projects students have been hard at work making since August. Winners of the fair will go onto compete in a regional competition at the end of March.

"The students work closely with their teachers and must produce a project that adheres to the scientific method," said Cindy Colomb, science teacher and coordinator for Farmington municipal school district. "They get the whole package that will pay off in so many ways - invaluable practice combining scientific research, writing, and making a formal presentation."

On Saturday, judges were wrapping up their second day of student presentations by asking them questions about key criteria for each project. Project categories included botany, behavioral science, physics, biochemistry, zoology and microbiology.

"We look at six major things the purpose or idea the student has, the hypothesis, the procedure they went through, the results they found, their conclusion as a result, and if their work has a future application," said Jack Morrison, a judge in his 25th year. "Juniors and seniors also need to include a journal notebook of the process, detailing their work in nicely written form."

Morrison majored in science in college and through the years has seen the students' insights and technological tools increase.

"I was a radar officer on a B-29 in North Korea, doing everything by night. All our technology used these clunky tubes for everything," Morrison laughed. "Now, of course, it's all digital. These kids have a whole new paradigm of tools at their disposal, and it's fun to see how far they can go with them at their disposal."

With potential prizes and scholarship money at stake, the degree of detail and sheer complexity of the projects was clear, if you could understand half of the terminology or concepts involved.

"Some of these kids will make it through to the regionals," Morrison said. "And then the very best will go on to the international science fair later this year in Phoenix. Some of those projects actually are patented."

One project centered on whether a hydrogen generator the student constructed could get "my dad's truck better gas mileage." His results showed it did.

Another project determined whether a Gauss rifle could be used as a perpetual-motion machine to demonstrate conservation of energy.

A pair of judges acknowledged the student's parent is a physicist, but noted how articulate and knowledgeable the student was when asked about his research.

But even the elementary-level projects looked far more advanced than what you may recall from fifth-grade biology.

One project examined the effect of surface temperature on fingerprints. Another asked why some chickens lay eggs without shells.

"We had one judge just become totally moved by a third-grader's project that the judge did himself - in sixth grade," Colomb said.

Each participant will receive written feedback from the judges, regardless of outcome, Morrison said.

"I hope these kids get a background that gives them the idea to participate in science throughout their lives, whether at university or in other capacities," he said. "Because of the passion and dedication of their teachers, they have taken this step, and it's encouraging to see all their work and wonder what they will do next."

James Fenton can be reached at jfenton@daily-times.com; 564-4621. Follow Fenton on Twitter @fentondt.