Our Very Own ISEF Feeder Fair: The BCA Research Exposition

This year, the Society for Science and the Public approved the Bergen County Academies to run our own ISEF-affiliated fair: The BCA Research Exposition! On Sunday March 4th, 2018, over 200 BCA research students presented their research projects to judges. Two students from the BCA Research Expo go on to represent BCA at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

The Academy Chronicle had the opportunity to sit down with Mrs. Donna Leonardi, a research teacher and the director of the BCA Research Exposition, as well as participating students Julie Karam, Julia Jeong, Jennifer Kong, and Sunay Joshi, to discuss the fair.

Mrs. Leonardi has years of experience running the Middle School Science Fair at BCA as well as attending science fairs at state, national, and international levels.

“We should be considered very fortunate because feeder fairs are usually regional or state fairs, at which they select the students to go to the international fair,” said Mrs. Leonardi. “There are only a few magnet schools that have been affiliated with the national organization to have their own feeder fair to ISEF.”

The research exposition gave BCA students a chance to finally see the work that their peers have done. “Before the expo, everyone had been working in their own labs, and there wasn’t a lot of time to share all the wonderful things that they did,” said Mrs. Leonardi.

“This event gave everyone the opportunity to see what their friends had been doing in the research labs. To me, that was the most fortunate and amazing outcome of having our fair here at BCA.”

This fair provides a comfortable environment for students to showcase the many projects that they have worked on, which range from agriscience to robotics to cancer research.

AMST junior Julie Karam shared similar thoughts about the school’s first-ever research exposition: “Many students at BCA are involved in research, but not everyone necessarily receives opportunities to present their work. This fair provides a comfortable environment for students to showcase the many projects that they have worked on, which range from agriscience to robotics to cancer research.”

Julia Jeong, a junior from AAST, said that she was excited in the days leading up to the expo because it was exclusively for students she knew, and being able to formally learn from her friends about the research projects they were working on made the event more than just any other research fair.

AAST sophomore Sunay Joshi, who has been working on his research since December 2017, shared that he really enjoyed learning about his friends’ projects, as well as explaining his work to fellow students.

The research exposition surpassed the expectations of AAST junior Jennifer Kong who said that it was a unique learning experience, as she met judges knowledgeable in scientific research and medical professionals. “I think the most unique opportunity the expo provided was meeting these judges: I was even able to connect with an anesthesiologist who said he worked with seniors from BCA for their Senior Experience,” Jenn explained.

She also shared the unexpected fun she had at the exposition: “This research event was different from others I have attended in that there existed a different, more comfortable environment: the judges were friendly and did not seem to purposely interrogate you. The competitors were more supportive as well, as many of us are friends.”

Sunay appreciated the constructive criticism that his judges offered. “They pushed me to think of new application of my research and how it could be applied in real life,” he said. His math research was on the use of generating functions in brick packing and tiling problems. Unfamiliar to many, a classic example of a tiling problem includes the following: given an 8-by-8 chessboard with two opposite corners removed, can the resulting board be completely covered by dominoes?

The BCA Research Exposition had three divisions: novice, local, and ISEF. Only the highest division‒ISEF‒were allowed to qualify for the Intel ISEF Symposium and represent BCA. The novice division held its event in the Upper Cafeteria, and the local and ISEF division were located in the gym.

Julia shared that her novice division’s format was different from that of other substituents of the expo: “We were categorized by the type of our research and presented in front of our peers in our respective categories. These fellow researchers judged us as we presented our work according to a scoring rubric we were given. Afterwards, we attended two workshops of our choice where we learned skills ranging from squid dissections to preparing an ELISA [Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay].” She added, “The workshops were student-taught and were just as engaging as they were informative to us research students!”

Jennifer explained how her day went as a member of the local division: “The local and ISEF division were together in the gym. The first few hours were dedicated to judging, so multiple judges asked competitors to present and asked follow-up questions. The air was tense and buzzing with nervous but excited energy. We then had a break, and students had the chance to go around the gym and look at their peers’ projects.” Jennifer concluded, “After some more judging, the expo became open to the public, and seeing parents proudly listen to their children’s’ work with smiles on their faces was great to see!”

Sunay shared how the research exposition taught valuable lessons about perseverance in long-term projects. “At times, research can be difficult and discouraging,” he said. “But in the long run, your efforts pay off.”

The research exposition has certainly inspired BCA’s research students to become more involved with their projects, as the research exposition provided an easier transition into participating in research fairs, which can be intimidating at times. Julie agreed, mentioning that presenting becomes easier with practice.

She believes that the hard work everyone has put into the event has paid off and hopes that the research exposition will become a tradition at BCA for years to come!

You can find out more about the BCA Expo here.