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Posted 2/11/2016

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By Amy Christopherson
Transatlantic Division

Volunteers from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Division and Middle East District served as judges at the Frederick County Public Schools’ annual Science Fair, Feb. 4 at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Va.

Students in grades 6-12 from three high schools and four middle schools presented more than 200 projects that they began working on back in October. The county’s science coordinator recruited 35 experts and volunteers from scientific fields within the Winchester-Frederick County community to judge the projects.

Bill Ryals, a re-employed annuitant and project manager with the Middle East District, has been a judge at the science fair for over 10 years. He said the kids keep him coming back.

“It’s important for them to interact with people who are not part of their academic world,” he said. “They see those of us who are out there working in their fields of interest. Kids have the curiosity and drive, they just need exposure to these things to stoke the fires.”

Judges divided into teams of two and each took a category of projects to evaluate. There were 17 categories of projects, including animal science, biochemistry, computer science and engineering.

“They chose projects based on their interests,” said Master Sgt. Jaclyn Burford, the Transatlantic Division’s military human resources noncommissioned officer in charge, “not just what looked easy from the Internet. You could tell they were interested in their work.”

Burford said most of the students explained their projects and results so well, it was clear they had practiced. Ryals said he had the same impression.

“They speak with real confidence,” he said. “It’s not just because they’re well-prepared, it’s more than that. There’s an energy behind the confidence; it’s passion.”

Ryals said he enjoys learning about the students’ ideas and making suggestions on how they could improve or expand upon projects. He described a project that stood out to him, a student created a hand-charger for cell phones.

“He found the software he wanted to use to design the charging case, contacted the company and they ended up giving him the software for free,” Ryals said. “Then he made it on a 3-D printer. While he was describing the process, he also described things he could improve upon. When I was his age, we didn’t do things like this until college.”

Maj. Kristjan Rauhala, an operations officer with the Division, said he had never judged a science fair before so he wrote down some questions ahead of time in case the students needed a little prompting.

“These kids put a lot of time and effort into this, and I didn’t want it wasted,” he said. “They made their projects useful to their lives. I spoke with one individual who was a runner and his experiment was what type of socks absorb the least moisture. I was so impressed.”