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Kikugawa, Hennig win West Hawaii science fair

Updated: 
February 20, 2014 - 12:05am

Konawaena Middle School seventh-grader Courtney Kikugawa got the idea for her science project while playing soccer in the sun.

She often applies sunscreen in an effort to prevent skin cancer. But 12-year-old Kikugawa was interested in shedding light on which kind — lotion or spray — provides better protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

“I wanted to try to help others with my project by giving them more information on how to protect their skin,” she said.

So, Kikugawa applied scientific method. She placed color-changing solar beads in four cups, covered with clear plastic wrap evenly coated with sunscreen. One cup, the control, contained solar beads with no sunscreen protection. Kikugawa placed the cups in the sun for 30 minutes, observed the changes, recorded the data and repeated the process daily for five days.

Her hypothesis was solar beads protected with sunscreen lotion will provide better protection because it’s thicker than sunscreen spray. Not only was Kikugawa correct and her curiosity quenched, her experiment was among the winning projects at the West Hawaii District Science &Engineering Fair.

Kevin Hoag, seventh-grade life science teacher at Konawaena, gave Kikugawa some guidance on her project, but said she mostly worked independently. He described her as a very conscientious, hard-working and dedicated student. He was impressed by the research, reasoning and depth of knowledge Kikugawa displayed through this project.

Kikugawa and Kealakehe High School junior Fernanda Hennig were named finalists during last Saturday’s district fair at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority’s Gateway Center. They will compete March 31 through April 2 at the Hawaii State Science &Engineering Fair on Oahu.

More than 7,000 students participate in the science fairs each year in Hawaii, but only about 500 advance to the state fair, according to the Hawaii Academy of Science.

There were only eight projects, representing Konawaena Middle, Kealakehe High and Hualalai Academy, at last Saturday’s district fair.

Hennig, 17, was happy and proud about being a finalist, as well as “incredibly grateful” for having the experience to work in a private microbiology lab. From the microbiologist, she learned how to properly make lab reports and repeat procedures without variables. She said her experiment strengthened her critical thinking and analytic skills.

Hennig said the skills gained while performing her experiment will likely be useful as she pursues a medical career. She is currently interested in becoming a pediatrician.

Her project was on the effect of spices on Escherichia coli, a bacteria that lives in intestines. Possessing an interest in nutrition and medicine, Hennig has always wondered if spices had any effects other than flavoring, coloring or preserving food.

The purpose of her experiment was to determine how spices affect E. coli. The spices she chose were cinnamon, garlic and oregano, while the control was antibiotic tetracycline. She hypothesized all the spices would have the same effect as the tetracycline, but the conclusion showed otherwise.

Kealakehe High science teacher Eliosa Bellah liked the practicality of Hennig’s project. What Bellah admires most about Hennig is her motivation, strong work ethic, curiosity and confidence to ask for help or pose questions.

After attending the state competition, Kealakehe High Principal Wil Murakami was determined to bring back the West Hawaii District Science &Engineering Fair. He said this district event hadn’t been held for a few years because it was challenging getting resources and maintaining a strong following. Kealakehe High successfully put on this year’s event, thanks to the tremendous support from many in the West Hawaii community, Department of Education, and Hawaii Academy of Science.

As science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, continue to evolve and progress rapidly, Murakami said, so should the way those subjects are taught and integrated in the various grades. He pointed to the increasing emphasis to prepare students for the 21st century, when a STEM workforce will be essential, particularly for our nation’s growth and exceeding in a global economy.

Science fairs are an important part of this preparation because these venues inspire students to dig into STEM-related projects and allow them to showcase their work in a fun environment. Such fairs also test students’ intellectual rigor, persistence and skills while understanding the relevance of science and making their own discoveries, he said.

Participants at Saturday’s event had the opportunity to connect with representatives in the area STEM community, including those associated with NELHA — a unique science and technology site in North Kona that serves as a business incubator, research facility and economic development agency. Hopefully through these interactions, students learn about viable career options and are motivated to continue studying STEM subjects through college, Murakami said. Having the event at NELHA was a natural choice given the subject matter and it’s way of inspiring wonder, he added.

Murakami hopes more students and schools will participate in next year’s event. Those interested in getting involved can contact Linda Jeffrey, coordinator of the Parent-Community Center at Kealakehe High, at 327-4300, ext. 2432.