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Gary’s Glimpses: Non-judgmental at the Research Expo

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Don’t kid yourself: Kids in high school are still making paper airplanes.

In fact, Rio Rancho High School students Carter Brown and Diego Perez decided “Paper Airplane Flight (Fold)” would be a great subject to explore for last week’s annual Student Research EXPO, which was on display in the RRHS auxiliary gym on Thursday.

As happens almost every year, I headed there to see what these kids were coming up with — and paper airplanes were right in my wheelhouse. I even showed Brown and Perez how I used to fold them, and my old “jet,” I am happy to say, seemed to appear more streamlined, without paper folds outside the fuselage.

“We learned and concluded that the farthest-flying airplane is the classic dart fold,” the two noted in their abstract. “Now that we have tested and done the math (they did five test flights on each model) and concluded the farthest-flying airplane, there is no need to try and decide which way to fold your paper.”

Yup, I thought, that right there is some good information.

I’m not sure if any future airplane designers will take that into consideration, but that wasn’t the only — what I found — “wacky” project to be seen.

Of course, the titles can be deceiving:

• “Ants vs. Food”;

• “Can Wax Worms Save the World?”

• “Leopard Gecko Memory Experiment” (Nothing to do with Geico insurance);

• “Shiny Pennies”;

• “Night of the Living Ants”;

• “Egg Launcher”;

• “Ants on Over the Counter Drugs” (ants seem popular, eh?);

• “Eco-friendly Spinach Towels” (Hey, Popeye, get over here);

• “Stop Throwing Away Your Dryer Lint” (That may be your cat in there);

• “The Effects of Nicotine on Crickets”; and

• “What’s the Best Way to Wash Your Hands?”

I chatted with a few students who had done work on various brands of basketballs and how they bounce, a softball player comparing various bat construction, and even Cleveland High baseball/football player Colten Madison and Storm golfer Enrique Armijo’s efforts to engineer sporting goods for disabled folks.

There just isn’t enough time; after all, there were (by my count) 167 exhibits from the efforts of 236 students.

Because so many of my devices use batteries, I had to check out Ashley Jose’s “Battery Durability” experiments, from which I learned Panasonic batteries lasted longer than Energizer and Sunbeam, but the flashlight’s glow was brighter with the Energizer than the Panasonic. Next to her was Adam Rounsville, who reminded me of Doogie Howser as he described “How to Build a Better Battery.”

Never one gifted in science or research — or really, other than baseball, not much of anything worthwhile — I am always dazzled by what these kids come up with.

Jennifer Miyashiro, a longtime science teacher at RRHS and an originator of the Research EXPO, said, “The quantity has gone down; I would argue the quality has definitely gone up. … One of the main arguments I use for this is that oftentimes this is the first time students get to come up with their own idea, test their own idea, have a conversation with a professional in the field — another adult that’s not their parents, not their teacher — and have a conversation about their thinking, which is not something people get to do much.”

One of the judges on hand didn’t need directions on how to find the aux gym.

Former RRHS Principal Richard von Ancken, who brought along his trio of children — all RRHS graduates — said he can now be “a little more critical (as a judge) looking at the project, the amount of time and effort they put into it, the background, the research they did prior to starting the project, and if they were able overcome some obstacles along the way — how ingenious they were, if they needed to do that.

“I was more or less doing environmental sciences,” von Ancken said. “A lot of good projects here, several really good ones I thought were well-done, well thought out.”

Of course, at Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools, there are bound to be some top-notch projects, which could have an effect on our future.

One such topic was “Effects of Manuka Honey on Prodigiosin Production in Serratia marcesces Bacteria,” by RRHS junior Nastassja Martin.

The tall blonde patiently explained to this reporter, although she probably wasn’t sure he understood all of it (he didn’t) exactly what “Manuka honey” (it comes from New Zealand and you can find it at Sprouts!!) and all that meant.

It’s a continuation of a project she’d done in 2018, she said, and how she got “a really weird result” … but in dumbing it down for me, I learned her project may have something to do with causing cancer cells to self-destruct.

Looking ahead, she said, “I probably want to major in microbiology or biochemistry in college; I really found a passion for this kind of science and I think it’s fascinating, just working in the medical field, for that matter.

“It’s certainly in its very early stages to even possibly cure cancer,” she continued, “but just having a better understanding of this compound and its potential use for drugs from anything from an antibiotic to possibly cancer treatment” will no doubt keep her going in her research.

Wouldn’t it be cool to say you read about an RRHS graduate who finally found a cure for cancer?

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on another paper airplane — I have a better grasp of that type of research.

I wonder if red or blue paper can make a difference in how far one flies? (Carter and Diego: Are you listening?)