High School Students win awards at Maine State Science Fair

It was an award-winning weekend for two Maine Coast Waldorf High School students at the Maine State Science Fair. Junior Nora Goldberg-Courtney finished in second place in a highly competitive Plant Sciences category, while first-year student Alec Benton won two awards for his 3D printed filament bridge project. 

Nora’s second place finish for her project “Minimizing Food Insecurity by Investigating Hydroponically Grown Kale Species,” earned her a 100% tuition scholarship with a research assistantship and automatic admission to the Honors College of the University of Maine Orono. She also received scholarships from College of the Atlantic and a “Top Merit” award from the University of Southern Maine. Alec’s project, “The Effect of Part Cooling Fan Frequency on the Strength of 3D Printed Filament Bridges” earned two awards: a Jackson Laboratory Future Innovator Award, which recognizes “outstanding research and engineering projects by first year students,” and a Naval Science Award.

This was the 75th year of the Maine State Science Fair, whose primary sponsor is the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. The fair supports independent science research by Maine students, and schools from all around the state participate.

“It’s very competitive,” explains science teacher Kelly Welch, who coordinates MCWS student research projects for the fair. “For them to both earn awards was a really special moment.”

Goldberg-Courtney, who works at a hydroponic greenhouse and volunteers at Growing to Give, focused her project around innovative ways to tackle food insecurity. She constructed a mini greenhouse and grew three different species of kale inside.

“The premise of it was providing a way for families to have access to food they might not have been able to,” she explained. “It was a way to have access to more nutrient dense foods, because those are harder to access in food deserts.” 

She began by constructing a mini greenhouse and grew three different species of kale inside of it, and then tracked their growth over the next three months to assess whether miniature hydroponic greenhouses could be used to reduce food insecurity. The results showed that all three types of kale grew steadily, and that it could be a viable solution.

Benton, a first-year student, designed small bridges that he 3D printed and then applied different amounts of cooling to them to figure out what effect cooling has on the strength of those bridges.

“The results I collected showed that no cooling gives you the strongest bridges,” noted Benton, who has been interested in 3D printing for a number of years.

When he heard about the science fair, he thought 3D printing was a natural fit. “It sounded cool, and it gave me something to do outside of school,” he added. “I was very surprised at the Naval Science Award,” which is usually given to seniors.

They credit their success to some of the unique aspects of their Waldorf education. “I think Waldorf education makes you think about things from many different perspectives and develops many different skill sets,” says Goldberg-Courtney. “I had to get a little bit creative, and there’s some math involved with graphing and with designing the greenhouse. I think the curriculum at the high school definitely prepares you well for that.”

Their teacher agreed: “I believe there is this myth out there that Waldorf students are stronger in the humanities than they are in math or sciences, and it’s just not true,” said Welch. “They are intrinsically motivated to learn– that makes them good at any projects they decide to take on.”