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Small Pa. school district is big on thinking

Fannett-Metal has won the senior division for five years in a row at Franklin Science and Technology Fair

Fannett-Metal has won the senior division for five years in a row at Franklin Science and Technology Fair

May 05, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- In a nation where students are math- and science-challenged, where will the minds be developed to solve the energy crisis, combat global warming and meet other challenges facing the planet?

Apparently, in the Fannett-Metal School District.

Students from the pint-sized district have won the senior division for five years running going into last weekend's Franklin Science and Technology Fair.

Fannett-Metal has about 600 students from kindergarten through high school, but more than 100 of them were at the Franklin Science and Technology Fair over the weekend at Chambersburg Area Middle School.

Food prices are rising fast as the price of corn increases, as more is diverted to ethanol production. An alternative source for ethanol is all around us, said senior Megan Smith.

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"Last year I did it on pine sap and this year we decided to take it a step further and do acorns," Smith said. A bushel of acorns will produce just as much alcohol as corn, "and you don't have to plant it every year," she said.

The mighty oak will continue to produce acorns for decades and grows in areas unsuitable for farming, while corn requires annual planting, fertilizing and harvesting, all of which consume energy, Smith explained.

Going one step further was junior Bobbie Myers' project, Water 4 Fuel, which can double fuel mileage in a vehicle using water to supplement gasoline or diesel fuel, said science teacher Mathern Mellott.

Myers used a domestic well-water filter, a few screws and pieces of metal for a simple device that connects to a car battery, said Gary McGee, who teaches agricultural and technical sciences in the district. A current running through distilled water separates it into oxygen and hydrogen which is then fed into the engine air filter.

The two combustible gases mix with the gas or diesel to produce a mixture that burns more completely and cleanly. McGee said. No moving parts. No precious metals. No exotic chemicals.

Mariya Smekalova, a foreign-exchange student from Russia, produced steel with the same sulfur content as that used to build the Titanic. Under pressure, it proved much more brittle than higher-carbon steel, Mellott said.

Lori Boyer made a solution from tobacco that, when sprayed on gypsy moth egg masses, "kills them deader than dead," Mellott said.

With a combination of solar panels and wind generators, Jamie Kyler figured out what it would take to supply all the energy needs of the school.

"Look at what an education project that would be for the kids," Mellott said.

Then there is Nathan Neil, winner for the past two years of the Grace Murray Hopper Prize for computer science. The senior was showing off one of his entries for this year, QuizWhiz A+, a computer program "designed to help students with learning disabilities study outside the classroom."

"If they have trouble reading, it will read the questions to them. ... This program breaks down the walls that separate struggling students from success," allowing them to create, modify and take practice exams, Neil said.

The district uses QuizWhiz A + and Neil plans to have it patented. He also entered Balto, a self-operating security robot with a camera, light sensors, motion detectors and sonar.

Many Fannett-Metal students go on to college with science scholarships, Mellott said. It's not something in the water, but hard work that makes it happen, he said.

"I feel I'm a facilitator and I expect a lot from my students ... and they really struggle to make it through," he said.

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