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Research challenge draws top students

Albuquerque eighth-grader Rusty Ludwigsen was attending an aeronautics conference when he saw some people struggling to write because of hand tremors – the images of their battle sticking with him.

“I could see the real struggle they had with writing and it kind of bothered me,” said Ludwigsen, who is home-schooled.

So the 14-year-old built a device to help people with the condition, a creation that made him among the top award winners at the at the 55th annual Central New Mexico Science and Engineering Research Challenge that ended Saturday. He won the Life Sciences Grand Award.

Ludwigsen built a device that is worn between the wrist and the elbow and it is proving to reduce hand tremors. He said the subjects he tested liked it so much they wanted to keep it, but he said he needs to put his project through more testing before it’s market ready.

For another eighth-grader, Zach Fitzgerald, a Christmas present he didn’t get sparked the idea that led to his success at the research conference.

The Albuquerque Institute for Math & Science student had asked for a three-dimensional printer, which cost around $2,000.

“And, of course, the answer was no,” Fitzgerald said.

So the young scholar learned how to build one. He said the printer uses a tool similar to a glue gun to mold plastic into various objects. At the challenge, he used the printer to build a model house.

The printer only cost him about $200 plus a lot of hard work to construct. Fitzgerald said it would be perfect for an architect who wants to display a project with something other than a floor plan.

Fitzgerald won the Physical Science Grand Award at the challenge.

Fitzgerald and Ludwigsen will join three Albuquerque-area high school students whose projects at the challenge earned them a trip to Pittsburgh, Pa., for the International Science and Engineering Fair in May. The high school students will compete, while the eighth graders will attend as student observers.

The three high school Grand Award Winners, and their projects, were:

  • Jarek Kwiecinski, a freshman at Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science, who studied carbon efficiency.
  • Lien Tang, a freshman at Manzano High School, who studied the genetics of fruit flies.
  • Ruby Aidun, a sophomore at Albuquerque High School, who studied the odds of correctly guessing a game of chance.

Tang said in her research she tracked fruit fly mutations to certain genes, which may help future researchers studying muscle diseases in humans.

Aidun said she’s interested in mathematics and logic and has been working with a University of New Mexico professor to complete her project.

About 450 students participated in the research challenge that ran Thursday through Saturday at the University of New Mexico.

The Albuquerque Journal was a sponsor.