8 Pittsburgh kids named Broadcom MASTERS in national STEM competition

Photo: Luke Hartman with his project: “Working for a Good Night of Sleep – Relationship Between Exercise and Sleep.”

What draws a kid to science?

For Anne Lindsay, it was an article in her school’s newspaper about how 3 in 10 people worldwide don’t have access to clean water. For Luke Hartman, it was a TED Talk entitled “Sleep is Your Superpower.”

Anne, who attends Freeport Middle School, and Luke, a student at Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School, were among the kids who designed projects for the Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair (PRSEF).

When the fair was canceled in March due to the pandemic, students were invited to compete in the 10th annual Broadcom MASTERS, the premier STEM competition in the United States for middle school students.

Eighty local middle-school kids accepted the challenge to join over 3,700 others in the science competition. Anne and Luke were two of the eight Pittsburgh kids who made the final cut to the top 300 national MASTERS. The recognition included a $125 award and the opportunity to compete for $100,000 in prizes.

“There’s a really wide range of complexity at the fair,” says Nikki Woods, the science fair director for the PRSEF, now in its 82nd year.

Anne Lindsay is second from the left in this school photo.

Anne’s entry, titled The Optimal Amount of Titanium Dioxide Needed to Reduce Bacterial Proliferation, examines how titanium dioxide can be used as a cheap, safe and sustainable way to produce clean water.

“It is also a much less harmful way to filter water as opposed to the chemicals people use in water treatment,” Anne explains. A possible prototype might be a water bottle coated in titanium dioxide “that you could set out in the sun and it would filter water. It could be a cistern that you coat in titanium dioxide and use the sun’s UV light to filter your water.”

Luke’s project, Working for a Good Night of Sleep – Relationship Between Exercise and Sleep, ties into his training as a competitive swimmer. When he was 10, Luke’s sleep habits were inconsistent, affecting his athletic performance. After his parents bought him a FitBit to track his sleep, he started collecting data.

Initially, Luke faced challenges organizing his results for his project.

“Picking the days for sub-group analysis required a lot of thought and organization,” Luke says. “I got pretty good at using Microsoft Excel, copying and pasting the raw data into different sub-group charts. This made the final data analysis much easier.”

Both Anne and Luke are considering careers in science-related fields. Luke thinks his research is especially useful in analyzing sleep patterns before, during and after the pandemic. Anne is mulling a career as a medical microbiologist to monitor and identify infectious diseases. She hopes her research can be useful in bringing attention to global water inequality.

The quality of entries from students like Anne and Luke bodes well for the future, Woods says, especially as more manufacturing jobs become automated.

“We have a lot more skilled jobs than we used to,” Woods says. “As the internet has grown, as computational biology and genetics, fields that didn’t use to exist, have grown in importance, it is increasingly important that we have educated adults who are ready to fill new roles.

“We like to say at the Science Center that these kids are going to grow up and do jobs that don’t exist today.”

Pittsburgh’s 2020 Broadcom MASTERS

These eight kids made the top 300 Broadcom MASTERS. Their project titles alone are pretty darn impressive.

Jacob Collins, Ingomar Middle School. Project Title: Increase the Enthalpy! – The Use of Plasma-Assisted Combustion in Jet Engines

Luke Hartman, Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School. Project Title: Working for a Good Night of Sleep – Relationship Between Exercise and Sleep

Aurea Hickenboth, Homeschool, Zelienople. Project Title: Effect of Insulation on the Temperature of Overwintering Honeybee Hives

Valor Lekas, Hampton Middle School. Project Title: How Can We Predict the Effect of Human Pandemics on Recovering Species?

Anne Lindsay, Freeport Area Middle School. Project Title: The Optimal Amount of Titanium Dioxide Needed to Reduce Bacterial Proliferation

Aneri Shethji, Marshall Middle School. Project Title: The Inhibitory Benefits of Turmeric with Ampicillin on Escherichia coli

Adhitya Thirumala, Dorseyville Middle School. Project Title: Developing an Early Screening Application to Detect Lung Abnormalities Using Machine Learning

David Thomas, Holy Cross Academy. Project Title: Effects of Vapes and Cigarettes on Platyhelminthes