Some fairly impressive science here

Many participants go on to study fair projects in college

After seeing a demonstration of a prosthetic hand on YouTube, Easton LaChappelle, a sophomore at Mancos High School, said he was inspired to improve on the design by making it mobile and self-contained, without the need of a laptop, and all for less than $1,000. Here, he demonstrates his wireless prosthetic hand for a crowd assembled Thursday at the 54th San Juan Basin Regional Science Fair at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. Easton is the son of Patrick LaChappelle and Julia Whelihan. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

After seeing a demonstration of a prosthetic hand on YouTube, Easton LaChappelle, a sophomore at Mancos High School, said he was inspired to improve on the design by making it mobile and self-contained, without the need of a laptop, and all for less than $1,000. Here, he demonstrates his wireless prosthetic hand for a crowd assembled Thursday at the 54th San Juan Basin Regional Science Fair at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. Easton is the son of Patrick LaChappelle and Julia Whelihan.

Easton LaChappelle is only a high school sophomore, but already he gets weekly calls from potential clients interested in his work on wirelessly controlled mechanical hands. He was featured in Popular Mechanics magazine and has his eye on studying engineering at the University of Colorado.

It all started when LaChappelle watched a YouTube video of a mechanized hand and wondered if he could create a similar device that was completely self-contained.

“It’s been a huge learning curve,” he said. Now, he is well on his way to his goal of designing a prosthetic arm that responds to brain signals and can be made for less than $1,000.

The Mancos high-schooler’s project was joined by 226 others created by students from La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, Dolores, Hinsdale and San Juan counties at the San Juan Basin Regional Science Fair, held at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.

About a third of the students at Thursday’s fair presented projects that, like LaChappelle’s, built upon work they presented at previous science fairs, said Lynn Schneider, science fair coordinator.

Jessicah Wellman, an eighth-grader at Pagosa Springs Middle School, was another student whose project, which related to Alaska’s northern lights, continued on from last year. Before she moved to Colorado, Wellman lived in Alaska and was fascinated by the aurora borealis. Her project studied the correlation between sunspots and coronal mass ejections, a form of solar activity associated with solar flares that can produce the northern lights. She graphed instances of sunspots and the coronal ejections and came up with a trend line that ideally would allow scientists to predict solar flares.

The number of projects at this year’s fair was a few more than last year thanks in part to a renewed emphasis on the fair at Miller Middle School. Science fair projects were made a part of the curriculum in all sixth-grade classrooms at Miller after the requirement was dropped last year. And for the first time, seventh- and eighth-graders were given the opportunity to work on their projects during the enrichment period built into every day’s schedule.

As a result, Miller sent 40 students to Thursday’s science fair, when, in the past, numbers hovered around 25, said Barbara Wynne, a sixth-grade science teacher at Miller.

“We’re getting total school support this year,” Wynne said. “I’m loving it.”

In her 10 years organizing the event, Schneider said she has seen many former science fair participants go off to college and study subjects related to past projects. The fair is a great way for students to explore what they want to study later on in life, she said.

The top 23 projects from the regional science fair will go to the state competition April 12 in Fort Collins.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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