MOUNT VERNON — Two Mount Vernon High School science students did very well at State Science Day in May. Junior Willa Kerkhoff received a perfect 40/Superior rating at state science fair and also the Tera Data Young Women In Science Excellence Award, a certificate and some cash. Freshman Andrew Powell earned an excellent rating, and was an observer at the International Science Fair in Pittsburgh.
“I was thrilled when I found out about my perfect superior rating,” Kerkhoff said. “Getting a superior alone is not an easy thing to do at the state level, so a perfect superior is especially exciting and gratifying. My parents were very happy for me and glad that all the hours and effort I put into this project were being recognized. ... The judges really liked my attention to detail in constructing my survey, as well as my statistical analysis.”
Kerkhoff’s project was titled “A Face in the Crowd.” She said she decided to research the relationships between perceived attractiveness, gender stereotypes and memory because of her interest in how people judge — and prejudge — one another in social situations.
Kerkhoff said she found that we remember more about attractive people than those who we consider less attractive. “That was already known,” she added, “but I also found that because we remember more about attractive people, we are also less likely to stereotype them. They are more individual, so we don’t just use a stereotype to define them. I also found that people remember things about a person that contradict gender stereotypes. For example, people would be more likely to remember that a woman liked to fix cars than that she enjoyed shopping.”
Kerkhoff plans to pursue a career in science, but since she is interested in a lot of other things, the jury is still out on that.
Powell’s project was called: Evolution of a common high fitness phenotype in high and low density environments. It was a virtual experiment: Powell used software to model evolution to look at the effects of the diversity of resources in an environment. He discovered that both populations in the high- and low-diversity environments were able to evolve the ability to perform the high fitness trait, which he defined as ‘the ability to execute the logic function more.”
“However,” Powell said, “the population in the high diversity environment had significantly higher fitness because it had more tasks available to it.”
At the district science fair earlier this spring, Powell was selected as an alternate to the 2012 International Science Fair and was able to go as an observer.
“It was great,” he said. “There were lots of different countries represented. It was great to interact with people who are just as passionate about science as I am.”
Although biology has been the main focus for his science fair projects to date, Powell is also very interested in computer science.