Middle school students receive top honors at State Science Fair

Kristi Hibbert photo Big Piney Middle School eighth-graders Blade Hibbert, left, and Brandon Jones display the awards they received at the Wyoming State Science Fair on March 3-5 at the University of Wyoming.

Professionals in science,

technology, engineering and math gathered

with University of Wyoming faculty

to judge hundreds of projects submitted

by middle and high school students at the

Wyoming State Science Fair. The judges

were searching for the most innovative

ideas in a variety of science, technology,

engineering and math fields, and they

scrutinized every little detail and step in

each project.

The competition is stiff. Only the top

two or three students at regional science

fairs make it to the state competition

hosted by the University of Wyoming,

said Big Piney Middle School science

teacher Kristi Hibbert.

Only about 200 students with brilliant

and diverse ideas from dozens of schools

across Wyoming made the cut and had

to convince the judges why their project

or invention was the most relevant and

noteworthy. After three days of intense

inspection and questions from judges and

members of the public, the top awards

were finally announced.

Two eighth-graders from Big Piney

Middle School made it through the grueling

process and came out with top honors

at this year’s state science fair on March

3-5. Blade Hibbert won the Lemelson

Early Inventor Prize for the best overall

invention at the fair with his stock tank

solar condenser. He also won a National

Broadcom Nomination and a Rocky

Mountain Aeronautics Prize for his invention.

Brandon Jones was awarded second

place in the mathematical sciences category

for developing a new formula in the

field of magnetics and electricity. Jones

also received a Naval Sciences Medallion

Award for the relevance his project has to

research the U.S. Navy is carrying out.

Magnetic madness

Jones came up with his new formula

by combining the study of magnetic fields

with mathematics. The ability of magnets

to attract and repel each other based on different

variables is “pretty cool,” he said.

Magnets can do all kinds of crazy things,

like make objects levitate, he added.

Jones, also passionate about mathematics,

is already taking algebra classes in

eighth grade and is looking forward to

calculus.

“I’m really good with equations,” he

said, “I like math because it’s solid. You

always have a number answer that doesn’t

vary.”

Jones took his interest in magnetics to

his teacher, Kristi Hibbert. Students begin

preparing for the science fair early in the

academic year and usually submit ideas or

a “testable question” in September, Hibbert

said. The students then spend the next

several months preparing for the regional

competitions in January.

Jones was interested in finding out what

happens when an electrical force runs

through a magnetic field. Using a set of

changing variables, Jones came up with a

brand new formula to measure how certain

electrical conductors like copper and iron

filings behave in a magnetic field.

On a foldout display, Jones showed images

of his tests. He used computer technology

to blow the images up and make

it easier to measure where the iron filings

and electroplated copper moved in the

magnetic field.

The tests were time consuming, particularly

the “aggravating process of peeling

off the iron filings” from the magnets,

Jones said.

But the work paid off. Magnetic fields

and electrical currents are used in designing

metal detectors, Jones explained. The

U.S. Navy was particularly interested in

his study because of the real-world implications

it had for security devices.

Jones’ new formula placed first at the

regional science fair in the mathematics

category. The project went on to win second

place out of more than a dozen ideas

submitted by the best young mathematicians

in Wyoming.

Thawing stock tanks

Blade Hibbert’s groundbreaking idea

to develop a system to thaw stock tanks

in extremely cold weather was met with

skepticism from some of the judges. Early

in the competition, one judge questioned

why anyone would need this invention.

The judge clearly had never experienced

waking up early on a bitter cold

Wyoming winter morning to go out and

feed and water livestock.

“You can’t understand the brutality of

chopping ice (for livestock),” Blade Hibbert

said. “It’s also really expensive to

heat water troughs. So I used the sun’s energy

to save money and strength.”

Hibbert explained how his system

worked using a model that he painstakingly

designed. A copper pipe climbs up a

trough to a large water tank. The trough is

lined with parabolic mirrors to capture and

condense energy from the sun to heat the

water in the pipe. The heated water then

moves through insulated pipes and into the

stock tank.

The mirrors harness enough energy to

heat water in subzero temperatures down

to 50 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

“On a 100-percent sunny day, the system

keeps (water) warm enough to put

your finger in the tank at minus 50 Fahrenheit,”

Hibbert said.

No more need to chop ice or buy an

expensive heating system. Other judges

caught on to the innovative idea, and Hibbert

won first place at regionals and was

recognized for the best overall invention

at the state fair.

Hibbert describes himself as “very mechanically

inclined.” When he’s not busy

designing new technology for ranchers, he

likes to fix trucks and ride dirt bikes. For

inspiration, Hibbert said that he looks up

to American inventor Thomas Edison.

Jones finds inspiration through his older

brother who is also gifted in mathematics

and enrolled in calculus. Outside of mathematics,

Jones loves sports. For the past

three years, Jones has participated in Rustler

athletics in

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