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2013 Symposium Summary

High School Students across the State Compete in STEM Research Symposium at UT

More than thirty students and teachers representing eleven high schools from across the state were invited to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in late February for the forty-eighth annual Tennessee Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. Twelve students presented original research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines as they competed for college scholarships.

The symposium spanned two days, February 28 and March 1, and consisted of student oral research presentations judged by a panel of UT faculty, a geologic field trip to Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, and a plenary lecture by Prof. Linda Kah entitled “Curiouser and curiouser: NASA’s Curiosity Rover’s Mission in Gale Crater.”

This year’s workshop for teachers was led by Jada Johnson, who discussed a new program at UT called VolsTeach. This program offers a path for science and mathematics majors at the University of Tennessee who wish to teach at the secondary school level to obtain their degree in their major and certification to teach in Tennessee schools within four years. The teachers also learned about the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) program at UT.

The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis was established to foster new collaborative efforts to investigate fundamental and applied questions in biology using appropriate mathematical and computational methods, to enhance the essential human capacity to analyze complex biological questions and develop necessary new mathematics, and to encourage broader public appreciation of the unity of science and mathematics.

Students spent time in UT’s “Down Under” Recreational Room where they enjoyed refreshments bowling, table tennis, billiards, and other activities.

Award Winners

2013 TJSHS winners: Regan Givens (Honorable Mention), Esther Choo (Second Place), Charles Noon (Third Place), Darby Schumacher (First Place), and Isiah Bell (Honorable Mention), with Director Ted Labotka

A total of $4,500 was awarded in scholarships to the top three student presenters.

Darby Schumacher, Baylor School, took first place and a $2,000 scholarship with her presentation, “A filter today keeps the pollutants away: A study of nanofiber-based stormwater filtration.”

Esther Choo, Farragut High School, won second place and a $1,500 scholarship with her presentation, “Scintillation properties of CsSrI3 crystal doped with 7 atomic percent Eu2+.”

Charles Noon, Farragut High School, received third place and a $1,000 scholarship with his presentation, “Analysis of changes in wintering bird numbers using the Knoxville Christmas bird count as a case study.”

Regan Givens of Pope John Paul II High School and Isaiah Bell of Harden Valley Academy received honorable mentions.

The five student award winners represented Tennessee at the National JSHS in Dayton, Ohio, May 1–5. Darby Schumacher, first-place winner in Tennessee, won second place in the national competition in the Environmental Science Division.

Research Abstracts of Top Three Student Award Winners


Title: A Filter Today Keeps Pollutants Away: A study of nanofiber based stormwater filtration
Student: Darby Schumacher
School: Baylor School, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Teacher:Katie Schumacher, Chattanooga Regional Science and Engineering Fair Board

Two nylon polymer nanofiber and activated carbon based filters were designed and built to test their mitigating effects on stormwater drain pollution that flows into the Tennessee River. The filters differed in the density of the nanofiber material. The hypothesis was that Filter B, containing a 10 gsm (grams per square meter) layer, would filter more effectively than Filter A due to the tighter weave of the nanofibers. Stormwater was collected and filtered through both filters, and the filtered and unfiltered water was tested for changes in sediment, pathogens, and excessive nutrients. Filter A had an average reduction of 51%, while Filter B’s was 73%. The hypothesis was supported by Filter B’s greater reduction of pollutant levels, but the dense nanofiber material decreased the flow rate to an impractical level. When both minimal acceptable flow rate reduction and high pollution mitigation efficiency were taken into consideration, Filter A was shown to be the most practical and inexpensive choice for a storm drain outfall water filter.


Title: Scintillation properties of CsSrI3 crystal doped with 7 atomic percent Eu2+
Student: Esther Choo
School: Farragut High School, Farragut TN
Teacher Mentors: Mrs. Neely Tonos, Farragut High School, and Dr. Charles L. Melcher, Scintillation Materials Research Center University of Tennessee

Scintillation crystals are capable of emitting visible or ultraviolet lights by absorbing and converting the energy from ionizing radiation such as x-ray, γ-ray and neutron. Among many important characteristics of scintillation crystals, high light yield and a fast decay time for high count rate are critical for medical imaging detector applications. Some metal halide compounds can be efficient scintillators when activated with Ce3+ or Eu2+ luminescent centers. In the current study, a Cesium–Strontium Iodide (CsSrI3) crystal doped with 7 atomic percent Europium was synthesized. The raw materials were mixed in a dry nitrogen-filled glove box, sealed in a quartz tube under vacuum (10−6 torr), and melted in a clamshell furnace. X-ray diffraction was used to determine the crystal structure. The result shows an orthorhombic crystal structure with some extra diffraction peaks, which indicate that some other inclusions or a secondary phase may be present. Subsequently, the scintillation properties of photoluminescence and decay time profile were measured. In addition, the effects of moisture absorption on the scintillation properties are also studied by characterizing a specimen exposed in air for 15 minutes since many metal halides are known to be hygroscopic that is detrimental to their scintillation characteristics.


Title: Analysis of Changes in Wintering Bird Numbers Using the Knoxville Christmas Bird Count as a Case Study
Student: Charles Keaton Noon
School: Farragut High School, Knoxville, TN
Teacher: Mrs. Neely Tonos, Farragut High School, and Dr. Chris Welsh, National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis

The National Audubon Society sponsors the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), the longest running citizen science survey in the world. Knoxville’s CBC (first occurring in 1902) is one of over 2000 in North America and takes place each year in order to collect data on wintering bird populations. In this report we summarize results from the Knoxville CBC since its inception but focus on the consecutive string of counts from 1957-2011. Data were obtained from the National Audubon Society and from The Migrant (journal of the Tennessee Ornithological Society). In the 76 years for which records for the Knoxville CBC were found, 163 cumulative species have been recorded, with a maximum at 104 species and a minimum at 56 species. We use General Additive Models to investigate changes in counts for Red-shouldered Hawks, Purple Finches, Northern Bobwhites, Loggerhead Shrikes, Eastern Bluebirds, and Tufted Titmice in more detail, accounting for variation in survey effort. This analysis provides insights into population trajectories for wintering birds in the Knoxville area and identifies several of significant conservation concern.