Young students produce a hall full of innovative ideas

A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Sancho and his science teacher Etilma Gamboa Hernández

Eliecer Sancho Valverde patiently sat by a machine of his own design at the Universidad de Costa Rica’s sports complex in Sabanilla Thursday afternoon.

When people asked him about the machine, the 16-year-old eagerly explained how the small factory-like device turned thermal insulation foam into polish that could be used as a varnish for wood carvings.

It was his way of using his knack for science to pose a solution to one of the world’s problems.

“It’s one of the biggest problems in the world,” said Sancho of the material.

He was one of nearly 400 students from across the country who brought almost 200 research projects to show at the 26th annual Feria Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología.

The science and technology fair is a national competition that showcases the most interesting experiments and research projects done by students from first to 12th grade. These are the winning projects from 27 regional fairs that took place across the country.

Jonathan Monge, fair director, said that the objective is to get students to offer new solutions on how to confront the world’s problems.

“We try to involve students from primary school to high school in the projects,” said Monge. “Our primary goal is to offer people new perspectives on problems, and try to solve them.”

He said the range of projects is diverse. Some projects are demonstrations while others are more presentations of research. Some students build machines, some prove physics theorems and others present their findings from psychological or behavioral experiments.

Sancho’s was clearly an engineering project. Step by step, he explained how pieces of the foam were converted into a liquid wood finish using several small, low-electricity motors to get to make the transition.

First he put the foam in a small compartment where one motor ground it down into small pieces. A door on the bottom of the chamber dropped it on to a conveyer belt, which took it to a small vat. There a motorized spoon mixed the crushed foam pieces with the varnish base.

Sancho said he wanted to do this because the foam is not recyclable, and he wanted to find a way to put it to use.

Sancho is a student at Colegio Nacional de Virtual Marco Tulio Salazar in Buenos Aires, Puntarenas. He is the first student from his school to present a project at the national fair.

He was accompanied by his science teacher, Etilma Gamboa Hernández, who was also at the fair for the first time.

“It’s incredible because it’s the first time that the colegio has gone to this science fair,” she exclaimed.

The two worked on the project for months together. She said that she guided him and tutored him along the way. She even helped him to type his ideas and make charts to support his project, since he did not have a computer.

Sancho said that he is hopeful that he will win recognition, he admitted that he faced stiff competition.

“The competition is a little difficult,” he said. “There are very good projects.”

The projects were presented to judges and the public all day yesterday, and the winners will be announced today at 8:30 a.m. in the Alberto Brenes Córdoba Auditorium on the Universidad de Costa Rica campus. Monge said that there are 64 prizes as well as three spots to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Arizona, in May.

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