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Budding Scientists Attend Conference

Young Scientists Conference held Oct. 3 at Central Lakes College – Staples campus

From space to snakes and computers to corn, students from local schools spent the day immersed in science at Sourcewell's Young Scientists Conference, Oct. 3, 2023, at Central Lakes College – Staples campus.

Students in grades 4-6 were invited to participate and grow their passion for science at this first-of-its-kind event. More than a half-dozen professionals in the science field presented to the group of students, sharing information about their career choice and their area of expertise.

Among them was former NASA aerospace engineer and local substitute teacher Russell Strachan.

Strachan worked not only with the space shuttle program, but also with the CIA as an analyst of foreign spacecraft missions, and was involved in the development of GPS – the Global Positioning System.

“The students in my aerospace session had the most fun constructing paper airplanes and flying them with different orientations of the control surfaces,” Strachan said. “The coordination and support provided by Sourcewell staff made my sessions flow with ease.” 

Sourcewell Student Academic Programs coordinator Phillip Olsen said this was the first time Sourcewell has offered this particular event and said it stemmed from the science fair concept.

“We know there are so many budding scientists in our region, so we wanted to take the science fair concept to the next level,” Olsen said. “By having a conference, students were able to immerse themselves in a variety of sciences and learn more about not only the field but the people working in them.”


Presenters and topics included:

Judy Barka  |  AgCentric  |  Recycling Corn
Plastic certainly has its place, but what happens when it’s thrown away and not recycled? Did you know that other materials – like corn – can be used to make more environmentally friendly products? Join Judy Barka, assistant director of AgCentric, as she shares the benefits of using corn in plastic products. You’ll also get a chance to create corn bioplastic from simple household ingredients.

Judy has been with AgCentric, the Northern Center of Agriculture Excellence, for eight years and enjoys connecting all ages with the cool things happening in agriculture and is energized by helping students discover their potential in the agriculture, food, and natural resources industries.

Mike Deluca  |  Geology  |  Get Ready to Rock
If you know, you know! Rocks aren’t just rocks. There are so many fascinating and odd traits a rock or mineral can display. Join us to take a deeper look geology and mineralogy. You’ll receive mineral and fossil specimens to work with in during the session and take home to keep. We’ll discuss rocks and minerals from around the world, as well as some from right here at home, their physical properties, and how to tell them apart.

Mike has a master's degree in minerology and has worked in the field patenting mining claims with the Bureau of Land Management. He also teaches around the country and has worked to reopen mining locations and catalog the mineral collection at the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum.

Molly Hane and Brenden Swanson  |  Fenworks  |  eSports and Drone Racing: Playing and Learning
Drones are what’s up right now. But did you know there’s so much more to this flying phenomenon than meets the eye? See how drone racing and eSports are related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and how they can provide career opportunities right here at home and around the world. We’ll learn the science behind how drones fly, the benefits of eSports and how video games work, and much more.

Molly and Brenden are from Fenworks, a company focused on leveraging the power of technology to create an immersive, community-driven experience that propels students into the future of digital competition and STEM education.

Amy Huebsch and Emily Monda  |  Tech Mobile  |  Decoding Crime
You have been given the keys to unlock clues and solve a crime! Using a robot, coding, and critical thinking, we will work together to draw conclusions and learn how these skills can be utilized in real-world problem solving.

Our presenters are with Tech Mobile, a Sourcewell program providing students with hands-on experiences using complex technology.

Medical professionals  |  Lakewood Health System  |  Case Candy-ectomy / Blood Typing 101
Get an in-depth look in the medical field in this two-part session with professionals from Lakewood Health System. First, you’ll scrub in for surgery. Under the watchful eye of a real-life surgeon, you’ll learn how laparoscopic procedures use surgical equipment, how to properly use surgical equipment, and take turns surgically removing sweets from our “patient.”

Then, we’ll discuss how the medical profession tests patients for blood types. You’ll learn relationships between antigens and antibodies, the different components of our blood, why blood typing is important, and the careers available in a medical laboratory.

Biologists/Zoologists  |  Snake Discovery  |  How to Snake a Living
Interact with real reptiles during this session with professionals from Snake Discovery. You’ll get a chance to touch (and even hold) the animals as presenters discuss what it takes to become a zoo educator. You’ll also learn the basic biology and different types of reptiles in our area, safe handling practices, why reptile conservation is important, and ways you can make a career in the zoo and educational system.

Snake Discovery provides engaging and educational programs at libraries, schools, nature centers, state parks, and more.

Russell Strachan  |  Aerospace Engineer  |  Space and Aviation: Understanding What’s Up!
You could say this presentation will be (literally) out of this world! Learn more about space exploration and aviation in this session led by a former NASA engineer. We’ll hear about the development of rockets and spacecraft, advances in aviation, and the career opportunities that await you.

Russell earned two degrees in aerospace engineering. His experience spans the military, government, education, and commercial sectors. He was also involved with the Global Positioning System (GPS), the CIA, and the NASA space shuttle program. He is currently a substitute teacher in Brainerd and Pequot Lakes schools.

Terri Strachan  |  Chemical Engineer  |  Water, Water Everywhere?
Get your hands dirty as you dig into the water cycle and why you should know more about water quality. We will discuss the basic water cycle, storm water management, and high-level wastewater management.

Originally from Wadena, Terri is a chemical engineer with 35 years of industrial wastewater experience in Houston, Texas.


To learn more about Sourcewell's student programming, visit mn.sourcewell.org/education/students


2023 Young Scientists Conference