As a longstanding partner of the Northern Indiana Regional Science and Engineering Fair (NIRSEF), ND Energy provided judges and awards for energy-related projects during its annual competition. On Saturday, February 27, six undergraduate students interacted virtually with area high school and middle school presenters using the platform Gather.Town.

Four awards were presented by ND Energy to the top two projects in each of the high school and middle school categories. The winners were:

  • Anna Kelley, high school student at Trinity School at Greenlawn, for her project titled, “High Energy-Low Cost Plasma Device for Chemical Degradation”.
  • May Weston, high school student at Marian High School, for her project titled, “What type of bioplastic creates the most durable biodegradable water bottle?”.
  • Joseph Hunckler, eighth grader at St. Matthew Cathedral, for his study of the pitch of windmill blades.
  • John Gutierrez, eighth grader at Schmucker, who compared the performance of solar versus traditional batteries in solar cars.

The judges were impressed with the quality of each project, especially given the added challenge students had to face due to COVID-19 restrictions and having intermittent or no in-person guidance.

ND Energy would like to thank the following SEB members for their time interacting with students and serving as judges: Eva Homberger, Emma Kerr, Kelly Moran, Robert “RJ” Myers, Michelena O’Rourke, and Mackenzie Winton.

Camerson Taylor

Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Hall was the site of the 2020 Northern Indiana Regional Science and Engineering Fair (NIRSEF) on Saturday, February 29. Students in grades 3-12 from area schools in Elkhart, Fulton, Marshall, and St. Joseph Counties, who were selected by the judges at their local school fairs, presented their projects at NIRSEF with the goal of advancing to the State Fair on March 28.

Members of ND Energy’s Student Energy Board (SEB) evaluated the energy-related projects to determine special prize winners for both junior and senior division participants.

While several senior projects caught the attention of the judges, Mufei Li from Culver Academies and her experiment, “Using Eggshells and Turkey Bones as Catalysts to Produce Biodiesel Through Transesterification,” stood out above the rest. Not only did Mufei conduct a thorough experiment and explain it well to the judges, she also considered future research ideas and applications related to the project.

Kelly Moran Mackenzie Winton

The junior division also featured multiple prize-worthy projects and resulted in a tie. The judges awarded Kate O'Shaughnessy (St. Joseph Catholic School, South Bend) for her project titled, “Magnetizing Oil Spills.” Kate used ferrofluid and a neodymium magnet to model a method she believes will be the future of cleaning small oil spills.

The other junior division winner was Will Michalski (St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School, Elkhart) and his project, “A Functional Homemade Radon Detector.” The judges were impressed with Will's efforts to create an ionization chamber and radon daughter collector, and by his problem-solving skills throughout the project.

SEB members serving as judges were Tara Senn, Emma Kerr, Emily Black, Ann Fink, Melanie Perez, Cameron Taylor, Caitlin Reed, Diane Kim, Mackenzie Winton, Kelly Moran, Breanna Belz, and Hannah Collins.

Nirsef 2019

Notre Dame was once again the site for the spring Northern Indiana Science and Engineering Fair (NIRSEF), showcasing the work of students from Elkhart, Fulton, Marshall, and St. Joseph counties. Middle and high school students who won first place at their home schools advanced to the March 2 event as hopefuls on their way to the finals in Indianapolis at the end of the month.

Fourteen members of ND Energy’s Student Energy Board (SEB) interviewed young researchers to determine their knowledge of energy and the originality of their questions and methods. Judging is an annual event for the Board and there are always difficult decisions to make since many of the projects are prize-worthy.

Junior division winner was the seventh grade team of Evan Brenneman and Kyle Umbaugh from Lincoln Junior High School in the Plymouth Community School Corporation. Their project, “Wind Turbines,” was designed to determine how the size of turbine blades affected rotational speed. The construction of a mini-turbine using cardboard, the shaft of an arrow, and a sand-filled water bottle impressed the judges, as well as their ability to relate the project to actual turbines.

There were many competitive senior division projects, making the process of choosing a winner challenging. SEB members ultimately settled on John Adams High School senior Nicholas Good’s experiment, “Enhancing the Growth Rate of Algae Using Heat Recycled from a Computer Undergoing Calculations.” Good combined his interest in computer hardware with his passion for solving questions related to world hunger, the energy crisis, and carbon dioxide reduction, while also taking into consideration profit for businesses. He was able to significantly increase the growth rate of Spirogyra by creating a warmer environment using waste heat from a working computer.

Thank you to the SEB members who gave up some sleep on a cold Saturday morning to encourage budding young scientists and engineers: Erin Ludwig, Diane Kim, Breanna Belz, Amorette Hernandez, Kelsey Farr, Dan Mikovits, Mackenzie Winton, Kelly Moran, Sylvia Kolda, Emily Black, Francie Fink, Talia Harb, Emma Kerr, and Loyal Murphy.


Presentation Science Fair 2018 1

It was a two-way learning experience on Saturday, March 3, for twelve ND Energy student volunteers and the middle and high school students who participated as judges and contestants at the annual Northern Indiana Regional Science and Engineering Fair (NIRSEF). “I didn’t know anything about this topic when I was their age,” was a common reaction from the undergraduates. As is often the case, the projects were so impressive that there was a robust discussion about who should win the solar-powered battery packs awarded as prizes.

Benjamin Pamachena and Jacob Dixon from John Young Middle School in Mishawaka received the middle school award for their project “One Man’s Junk Is another Man’s Insulation.” While on a class trip to an RV company, the two noticed that a significant amount of insulation was being thrown away during the construction of the motorhomes and trailers. They created a model to compare the R-value of the wasted insulation with cellulose, fiberglass, Styrofoam, and siding insulation. The judges were impressed with the young scientists’ thoroughness, the originality of the idea, and its connection to a problem right in their own backyard.

Students Science Fair 2018 1

Alek Wujcikowski, a senior from Elkhart Memorial High School, won the high school award for his cutting edge project “The Application of an Ion Engine for Space Exploration” that explored the use of an ion engine for long range travel in the vacuum of space. Alek is attempting to improve on NASA’s ionic engine design by using electrostatics instead of magnetism. Although he was disappointed with the force output he’s generated thus far, he shared ideas of ways to improve the design.

ND Energy is appreciative of the Student Energy Board members and Energy Studies minors who volunteered to serve as judges for this annual competition held in Notre Dame’s Stepan Center. They were Erika Kim, Cameron Gorsak, Alex Baumann, Michael Kay, Breanna Belz, Kelly Moran, Emily Black, Francie Fink, Rory Burke, Jake Miyazaki, Matt Chamberlain, and Cristian Lagunas.

Nirsef Photo 2

Hundreds of area K-12 students gathered in Notre Dame’s Stepan Center on Saturday, March 4, to participate in the Northern Indiana Regional Science and Engineering Fair (NIRSEF). Among those in the early morning throng were six volunteers from ND Energy’s Student Energy Board (SEB).

These undergraduates interviewed junior and senior level energy-related projects to determine the quality of the work and the energy IQ of the presenters. By noon, two projects were chosen as winners of the 2017 Energy Award.

On the junior level, Cole Klinedinst, a sixth grader from Discovery Middle School in Granger, won for his project, “Capacitors- How Much Energy Can a Leyden Jar Store?”. Cole was inspired to experiment with Leyden jars after researching Benjamin Franklin for a school assignment. Franklin was the first to use the word “battery” to describe connecting jars to build up more storage capacity. Like the researchers at ND Energy, Cole was trying to maximize energy storage.

The senior award went to a team from Elkhart Memorial High School, Romikumar Patel and Diego Reynoso, for their experimentation on “Artificial Photosynthesis.” As part of a brand new research class at their school, the pair ran over 100 tests in search of an effective catalyst. They were very knowledgeable of ongoing photosynthesis research and enthusiastic about the future potential of using sunlight to reduce air pollution and create new biofuels.

SEB members who helped with the judging were Justin Blake, Yilong Yang, Emily Black, Shane Andersen, Beruchya Dao-Bai, and Francie Fink. The SEB helps to educate the community about progress being made at Notre Dame toward renewable energy by volunteering in local schools and at events such as the science fair.

Nirsef Photo

The Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame (ND Energy) awarded two prizes at the 2016 Northern Indiana Regional Science and Engineering Fair (NIRSEF) held at the University of Notre Dame on February 28. The winner of the Junior Division was awarded $50 and the Senior Division winner $100.

Charlie Leonard, a 7th grade student from St. Pius X Catholic School in Granger, was presented with the Junior Division award for his original project entitled Turbine Toilet. Inspired by an evening when the electricity was out and a friend needed to charge his cell phone, Charlie devised a system using a pond water pump in the back of a toilet to generate a charge. Although it took two days to complete the charge, the award was given for the project’s originality and thoroughness, plus Charlie’s knowledge of the engineering involved.

Katherine Dyer, a senior from John Adams High School in South Bend, was the winner of the Senior Division prize. Her project, The Efficacy of Various Redox Mediators in Improving the Longevity and Power Output of a Membrane-less, Enzymatic, Glucose-Oxygen Physiological Fuel Cell, tested various redox mediators to determine their effect on the magnitude, stability, and longevity of power production in a glucose-oxygen biofuel cell. Katherine was awarded not only for her knowledge of the subject matter, but also for her persistence in constructing her own prototype cell.

The judges for the fair were Notre Dame students Jessica Cioffi, Belinda Hyland, Marc Gazda, and Justin Blake. All are active in ND Energy’s undergraduate programs either through the Energy Studies Minor and/or the Student Energy Board. ND Energy thanks them for giving up their Saturday morning to serve as judges.