By Christine Young, Intermountain Catholic
SALT LAKE CITY — Alexander George-Kennedy, a senior at Juan Diego Catholic High School, was a grand champion winner at the Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering Fair held this year at the University of Utah March 16-17; he will advance to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz., May 8-13.
Charles Topoleski, a sixth-grader from Blessed Sacrament School, placed second at SLVSEF in Biology and Biochemistry.
This will be George-Kennedy’s second time attending the International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. George-Kennedy won SLVSEF last year; this year he won the NASA Earth Systems Award, placed second place in the Physics Astronomy and Math division.
SLVSEF is an annual science competition for students in grades 5-12 from the Canyons, Granite, Murray, North Sanpete, Park City, Salt Lake and Tooele school districts as well as the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said Jim Larson, who teaches math and science at J.E. Cosgriff Memorial School.
The 80 students from the Utah Catholic schools who participated in SLVSEF advanced from the diocesan science fair; many of them also competed at the school level.
“At Intel ISEF Alex will compete against over 1,000 students,” said Dr. Christine Celestino, who leads the JDCHS Science Department. “After his incredible experience last year at the international fair, he came back with the goal to go again. He did a totally different project, which he completed entirely on his own, using computer programming to show that light can travel through wormholes.
“While I was waiting with him to get his award [at SLVSEF], several scientists and judges approached him to say how impressed they were with his research. At least two people said they wished he would attend the [University of Utah] and come to work in their labs. The fair director said that she sent extra judges to talk to him not because they were on the fence about advancing him, but because she wanted the judges to hear how well he explained his work to a variety of audiences.”
People from around the globe present their projects at Intel ISEF. “Last year I had my project set up next to someone from Sweden, Singapore and New Hampshire,” said George-Kennedy; his project involved using brain scans to diagnose autism.
“The ISEF experience was life changing; it made me more driven and motivated. I met tons of really smart people who serve as role models for me,” he said.
In addition to advancing to ISEF, George-Kennedy won a full-ride scholarship to Westminster College, but he is undecided where he will attend college, he said.
George-Kennedy has been interested in science since he was young, said his mother, Naz George-Kennedy. “Alex has a passion for science. He would rather do something to make a contribution to society rather than worry about making a profit for a company or having a big title; he admires people who contribute to society and he looks up to his teachers at Juan Diego and says they are selfless and caring.”
George-Kennedy said he watched a lot of science television shows such as Nova while he was growing up, and he had good science and math teachers who kept him interested in the two subjects.
He would like to become a professor, he said. “I like tutoring and teaching and helping other students when I can,” he said. “I also like doing research, and professors do that as well.”
Topoleski also likes doing research and math that involves formulas, he said. He also plays the piano and drums. “I really like playing musical instruments; music is full of math because there is a beat and a tempo in all music, and music and math help make connections in the world.”
Before qualifying for the SLVSEF, Topoleski placed second at his school’s sixth-grade science fair; in the Diocesan Science Fair he placed first in the sixth-grade category.
“Charles is a very conscientious student, a deep thinker, and we are proud to have him represent the school,” said Angela Serzen, Blessed Sacrament’s sixth-grade science teacher.
Topoleski’s science project was to find the best way to remove bacteria from teeth. He has worn braces for more than a year and a palate expander that traps food and bacteria, he said, that piqued his interest in the research.
For his project, he grew tooth bacteria in a petri dish at the Jordan Applied Technology Center and tested different methods using a manual toothbrush with toothpaste and cultured it in an incubator, he said.
“I like science because you can explore literally everything,” he said. “I’m totally going to stay with science throughout college. Science is my favorite thing to do; there is so much that is unknown.”