Office of University Relations
SDSM& T News
501 E. St. Joseph Street • Rapid City, SD 57701- 3995
Phone: ( 605) 394- 6082/ 2554 • Fax: ( 605) 394- 6177
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 5, 2000
SDSM& T STUDENTS EXCEL TO INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FAIR
John Keefner and Mark Hanhardt of Sturgis traveled to Novo Hamburgo, Brazil this past November to represent the United States at the 14th Annual Mostratec – a South American International Science Fair. John and Mark are graduates of Sturgis Brown High School, and now attend the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. John is a geological engineering major, and Mark is majoring in physics at Tech.
Their road to Brazil began when they took first place at the High Plains Regional Science Fair held last March at the School of Mines. Their project was concerned with superconductors and how they affect the formation of ice. Their next stop was the 1999 International Science and Engineering Fair held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where they took first place in the team division. Their success then led them to represent the United States and compete in the 14th Annual Mostratec, a South American International Science Fair held in Southern Brazil this past November.
Culture shock, a language barrier, and very impressive competition greeted the two as they began their week and a half long visit to Brazil. To learn more about John and Mark’s experience competing at the 14th Annual Mostratec, read the attached document written by John shortly after their return. If you are interested in learning more about their trip, contact the Office of University and Public Relations at 394- 6082 to coordinate a meeting with John and/ or Mark.
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Brazil: 1999 Mostratec
John Keefner ( Fr, GeoE)
These are my thoughts and impressions of Brazil less than twenty- four hours off the plane home. My partner, Mark, and three chaperones from Science Service spent roughly a week in Novo Hamburgo ( New Hamburg), in Southern Brazil, as part of the South American International Science Fair. About a dozen South American countries had students who were competing, and a handful of Europeans were there in the same capacity as mark and I. The science fair was the 14th Annual Mostratec.
Earlier this year, my partner, Mark Hanhardt and I won first place in the team division at the 1999 International Science and Engineering Fair ( ISEF) in Philadelphia. We had gotten there after winning first place at the local High Plains Regional Science Fair held right here, on the SDSM& T campus, March of last year. Our project concerned superconductors and how they affect the formation of ice. The effect was previously undocumented and unstudied. This must have impressed our judges quite a bit as they sent us to Brazil for a week and a half this November.
In preparing for the trip, Science Service, the organization that oversees ISEF and doles out the huge donations from companies such as Intel, seemed to be deliberately ambiguous about exactly what we were going to do in Brazil. In fact, we didn’t find out until we talked with Virginia Rhodes, one of our chaperones, in Miami, on a connecting flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Mark and I were representatives of the United States. We were special guests and were strictly invited to show our project and help other science fair exhibitors that might eventually make their way to American competition.
We left early Saturday morning and made it to Porto Alegre, Brazil after a twenty- four- hour trip spanning five time zones and the equator. Then we waited about two hours for Mary Romjue, another chaperone, who had been delayed in Miami. Other delays involving the car rental slowed our progress to the blessed hotel by another good hour. After that trip, any old mattress was very welcome. Our third chaperone, Evalyn, was from Puerto Rico and helped us to our rooms at the Suarez Executive Hotel. The fair was held in the gymnasium of an aging private school called the Liberato. In spite of its crumbling stucco and the plants growing through the unfinished cement structure, the Liberato was a very charming locale. It is found on the top of a tree covered, vine entangled hill overlooking the city of Novo Hamburgo. Liberato is one of the few places that is removed from the endless megacity that stretches from Porto Alegre to approximately fifty miles inland.
The people were remarkably nice. We were immediately offered assistance and an interpreter at the gate of the school. Vanessa, the daughter of one of the people in charge and former foreign exchange student, helped us place our project and showed Mark and I around a bit. In spite of the language barrier, we were able to use my pitiful knowledge of Spanish and weak attempts at pantomime to ask questions and get directions. Most people seemed happy to watch our antics and lend us a hand.
The science fair was comparable in size to the one held at the SDSM& T every year around March. However, the level of competition was well above most of the elementary and high school projects that our local competition produces. There were students competing from nearly every country in South America. In some cases, the competitors had to win at a local or regional fair before advancing to Mostratec.
Once the fair was underway, Mark and I immediately took to a few people, mostly those who spoke English. We got to know Bogden who was representing the Ukraine. Marek was from the Czech Republic. Felipe was attending school at the Liberato but had spent some time in the UK with his mother. There were also several other interpreters who were also a lot of fun to speak with.
The science projects that we saw in Brazil were distinctly different from those found in the States. Our project, titled “ Zen and the Art of Diamagnetic Water Repulsion,” was grasped by few and probably not completely understood by anyone. We didn’t get the spark of understanding that we saw in our judges at ISEF. Zen e a Arte do Diamagnetico Repulsao do Agua ( the Portuguese translation of the title) was the only theory/ pure science project at Mostratec.
However, the rest of the projects were all well- grounded in technology and the use of well established scientific principles. In a different society with different demographics, the practical aspect of science is valued and encouraged far above American standards. Gone were the “ How well does a paper towel absorb water” and the erupting volcano/ baking soda & vinegar science projects. For sheer problem solving and originality, American fairs don’t hold a candle to the average Brazilian project. There were projects that solved pollution problems, traffic problems, automated medical analysis, and identified metal samples without any ultra- expensive equipment.
Of course, the economic advantage that North American students have over South American students was always lurking just at the corner of our vision. The slums and effects of over- urbanization could be seen everywhere.
Overall, the Brazil trip was an exciting chance to travel the world and observe other types of science at work. I can appreciate this experience. I hope that other students get a similar chance to understand the kind of opportunity that we do have in the United States. It should be taken advantage of, not taken for granted.
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