Westminster Christian School (WCS) juniors Jack Erdozain, Jr. and Eric Riehl recently won top honors and high praise for their alternative energy research projects at the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Pittsburgh, the largest pre-college fair in the world.
The WCS students competed against 1,500 high school students from 70 countries and their INTEL ISEF showings followed on the heels of consecutive wins at this year’s regional, state and international science and engineering competitions.
“It is unheard of to have the kind of success these students have achieved,” said WCS science teacher Lisa Garrido. “As I traveled with them to competitions, teachers from all over the world were congratulating them on their projects and Westminster for having two students achieve at this level.”
Erdozain’s project — Electrochemical Effects of Saccharides on the Voltage Output of a Microbial Fuel Cell Using Penicillium Chrysogenum — created a battery that generates energy from a fungus that consumes sugar. The project is unique because it has, in effect, discovered a new use for an organism that provides an alternative source of energy by using waste products.
“I first stumbled upon microbial fuel cell technology in ninth grade,” said Erdozain. “It seemed a little known wonder to me that harnessing of electrical energy through the metabolic cycles of organisms could be possible. Without having taken my first chemistry class, little did I know I had started my first research into electrochemistry and bio-electrogenesis.”
At the INTEL ISEF, Erdozain’s research won first place in chemistry, earning him a $3,000 prize. He was also presented with $500 from the Lanxess Corp., a $60,000 scholarship from the Florida Institute of Technology and a certificate from the American Chemistry Society. This was his second trip to the international competition; as a sophomore he earned third place in the chemistry division and $1,000.
Classmate Riehl earned fourth place and $500 in the energy and transportation category for his project Street Smart, a physics/engineering product he designed to harness energy from moving vehicles to help alleviate the energy crisis. It was also his second time at the competition, having been the first Westminster student to ever be invited to attend when he was a freshman.
“There is an intense focus now on energy, where it can be obtained, its cost effectiveness and whether it is environmentally friendly,” said Riehl. “I decided to focus on an area where energy is typically ‘lost’ and then formed my project around that.”
Riehl’s Street Smart also earned a silver medial/second place award in engineering at the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering and Environmental Project Olympiad in Houston, an international competition that showcases innovative ideas from high school students interested in global sustainability. The only representative from Miami-Dade County and only one of four in Florida, his project competed against 455 others from 68 countries and 44 states.
“Since I was in elementary school, I have had a natural inclination for building, innovations and inventions,” said Riehl. “My project combines all of these elements. It takes advantage of engineering principles and most importantly it solves a problem.”
Erdozain and Riehl first caught the attention of judges at the South Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair, where both students earned superior ratings and the opportunity to compete at the INTEL ISEF.
Among other special awards, Erdozain received the award for most outstanding 11th grade exhibit in computer science, engineering, physics or chemistry by theYale Science and Engineering Association and the FIU Agroecology-BioenergyScience Excellence Project Award. Riehl received the Outstanding Sustainability Award from the National Society of Professional Engineers and certificates of achievement for an outstanding science or engineering fair project from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Naval Academy.
From the Regional Fair, the projects then competed at the 57th annual State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida where both Erdozain and Riehl again stood out from the competition.
Erdozain was the Grand Award-Ying Scholar winner, as well as Best in Fair in the physical sciences category, the most prestigious award presented at the state level, which included a $1,000 cash prize. He was awarded a $20,000 Rollins College Cram Scholarship, and a New World College of Florida scholarship for $8,000.
In addition, his project earned a first place award in the chemistry category. Riehl placed second in the engineering category, earning him the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Award, an award reserved for a student withoutstanding technical prowess on a mechanical engineering inclined project. He was also awarded a $40,000 scholarship to the Florida Institute ofTechnology. Both students received a Distinguished Scholar Award from the U.S. Navy.
“The awards are just mile markers in the journey,” added Erdozain. “The true enjoyment as any scientist would agree is in the process of bringing new pieces to the natural puzzle to light.”
Both Erdozain and Riehl plan on pursuing careers in engineering that will allow them to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
“I love science and math,” said Riehl. “I want to invent something that will have a positive impact on human needs.”
“I have always been a multifaceted scientist, keeping my hand in everything from biology and physics, to chemistry and engineering,” said Erdozain. “I believe it helps me think outside the box to accomplish a more ideal solution to a problem.” “I am so proud of what both of these young men have accomplished,” said Garrido.
“Their talents are many, their work ethic astounding and their passion for science remarkable. I believe this is just the beginning of all they will accomplish and believe they are blazing a trail for a very strong science research program at Westminster.