RIO RANCHO, N.M. — When 14-year-old Jasina Aguilar was trying to come up with a project for the Bernalillo High School science fair, her mind went back to an old family tradition.
For centuries, Pueblo peoples have used yucca root as a natural shampoo and body wash. Maybe, Aguilar thought, the spiny plant can go head to head with commercial products or even outperform them.
She put the theory to the test, asking her younger sister, Dorella, to wash her hair with yucca root every day for a week, while Aguilar used store-bought Garnier Fructis shampoo.
In the end, nature won out.
Dorella’s hair was the healthier of the two, according to a strength test Aguilar devised – she taped pennies to a few strands from each girl and counted how many it took to break the hair.
On Thursday, Aguilar set up a poster board that explains her project and proudly presented the results to a panel of judges during the final round of Bernalillo High’s school-wide science fair, the first held in years.
“I really liked showing how my ancestors used this,” said Aguilar, a freshman whose family comes from Santo Domingo Pueblo. “It was fun.”
Aguilar was one of 15 students who participated in the final round, five from each grade level. They had advanced from about 50 entrants, all students in honors or Advanced Placement science classes.
The projects were diverse: “Acidic Solutions on Corroded Surfaces,” “The Effects of Drinks on the Color of Teeth,” “Horse Manure vs. Commercial Fertilizer,” “Open Egg Hatching vs. Closed Egg Hatching in an Incubator.”
Ivy Alefante, a physical science and chemistry teacher, said she asked her students to explore their homes and hobbies for ideas.
“I’d say, ‘What are you interested in?’ “Alefante explained. “If this is something that contributes to the community, it is more meaningful.”
Each student thought up an experimental design, considering their hypothesis, variables and control group, then collected data.
Alefante, AP chemistry teacher and department head Melba Acantilado and honors biology teacher Jennifer Rossiter worked together to organize the science fair, which kicked off with preliminaries on March 17.
The trio found five local scientists and engineers to judge the finals.
“These kids have a lot of potential,” Acantilado said. “We wanted them to show their talents.”
Overall winner Camelia Ceniceros, a 16-year-old junior, said the science fair helped teach her about chemistry, public speaking and Excel spreadsheets.
Ceniceros also received the “best presenter award” for her examination of caffeine levels in oolong, black and green teas using an advanced boiling technique.
The daughter of two engineers, Ceniceros has been participating in science fairs since third grade.
“It’s great Bernalillo High is hosting science fairs,” Ceniceros said. “They really inspire kids. You get so much hands-on learning.”
Alefante, Acantilado and Rossiter are already looking forward to next year. They plan to sign on for a regional science competition that includes schools around the state.
“We’re very proud,” Rossiter said. “The kids worked hard. A lot of effort went into this.”