Westwood Jr. students capture bronze at national science competition

Erika MacInnis (left) and Olivia Cardillo were the first Westwood Jr. students to ever make it to the national level of a Canada-wide science fair. The pair earned a bronze medal in Lethbridge, Alberta. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Cardillo.)
Erika MacInnis (left) and Olivia Cardillo were the first Westwood Jr. students to ever make it to the national level of a Canada-wide science fair. The pair earned a bronze medal in Lethbridge, Alberta. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Cardillo.)

First time accolade for Saint Lazare school

Two Grade 8 students from Westwood Jr. High School made history when earning the right – the first time ever for the Saint Lazare school – to attend the 2013 Canadian Science Fair late last month where they were awarded bronze medals for their project.

Along with the medals, Erika MacInnis, 14, and Olivia Cardillo, 13, each won a $1,000 scholarship to Western University and a $100 cash prize during the Canada-wide Science Fair 2013 that was held in Lethbridge, Alberta.

The two well spoken teens set out to figure out which configuration of wind turbines produces the highest total voltage when arranged in a limited area on a simulated wind farm. MacInnis said she became intrigued by the query while traveling a few summers ago with her family in the Netherlands.

To her eye, the turbines did not seem to be placed strategically and MacInnis wondered how they should be placed in order to generate the most energy – especially in more confined spaces as large areas of land become less available.

“I came home and did some research and found out there’s really no official way to place wind turbines,” she explained.

Knowing they would have to come up with a submission for an annual in-school science project, a challenge posed of Westwood Jr. students in the school’s advanced programs, MacInnis and Cardillo teamed up last summer and began working in earnest on their submission, well before school even began.

Hypothesis

MacInnis and Cardillo’s hypothesis tested several configurations of wind turbines in a wind farm of limited space.

After much study and controlled testing, their results showed that turbines placed in an inverted V position would generate the most energy.

Their project took the gold medal in the junior category at the Montreal regional science competition, along with a $400 cash prize.

The pair also won the Hydro Quebec prize in Chicoutimi at the provincial competition. The win additionally came with an invitation to visit the James Bay hydro installations this summer.

But it was their bronze medal earned in Alberta that really filled them with pride.

“We got to meet so many young aspiring scientists from all over Canada, and we were able to tour so many great places in southwest Alberta. It was a wonderful trip,” Cardillo said, adding the pair will meet up this summer with many of the Quebec based competitors they met during the trip.

For Westwood Jr. Principal Hans Bulow the recognition reflects not only on the medal-winning students, but also on the school at large.

“It also gives recognition and pride to the Matrix and Science program at Westwood Jr. and the devoted teachers who have guided these students,” he said.

Science teacher Gail Stanworth said both students put in a lot of hard work and dedication.

“The girls have worked extremely hard over the past ten months, putting in hundreds of hours in creating, perfecting and presenting their project,” she said. “The level of science and their care in controlling scientific procedure and outcomes are above grade level and very commendable,” she noted.

And though she does not focus on gender when teaching, it was not lost on Stanworth that the three projects to earn medals at the regionals in Chicoutimi were done by all-female teams.

“Girls are doing well in science based fields. At this level (in school) they tend to be a bit more mature than boys, though boys are more intrinsically interested (in sciences,)” Stanworth said.

When asked about their future, MacInnis said she would like to become an engineer – a field still traditionally dominated by men – while Cardillo wants to study medicine. Both say they won’t let gender-based stereotypes slow them down. “It doesn’t make much of a difference. Regardless of if there’s favoritism, nothing is going to stop us.”

And MacInnis and Cardillo are planning to further develop their wind turbine project for next year’s science competition.

“We want to change some things like use smoke to determine wind directions and how wind from one turbine can affect another,” said MacInnis. “There is still a lot we can do.”

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