Extra Credit Q&A: Duluth East students excel in new Science Fair Club

Six Greyhounds advanced to a state science fair and one is set to compete at an international fair in May.

high school science club
Duluth East Science Fair Club members Rhees Cragun, from left, Camilla Beaster, Adele Mamedova, Stella Harbson, Alex Leach, Hannah Caine, Lucia Nelson and Emelyn Beaster stand in the chemistry lab Tuesday with awards they won from science competitions over the past year.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — How does music affect learning? How does salt affect freshwater bacteria? How do magnetic fields affect brine shrimp?

A dozen budding scientists in East High School’s student-founded Science Fair Club studied those questions and more this school year. Six presented their findings at a regional science fair at the University of Minnesota Duluth in February. Each of the club’s entrants at the regional fair advanced to a statewide fair in March.

Emelyn Beaster, one of the club’s founders, advanced her project "Using Microplastics to Sequester Organophosphate Pollutants" to the International Science and Engineering Fair on May 13-19 in Dallas. Her work considered a new way to use recycled plastics to filter contaminants out of polluted water.

Beaster and classmate Stella Harbson founded the club near the end of their sophomore year. Both are now seniors.

high school science club
A sample of medals won by the Duluth East Science Fair Club.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

They and other club members answered questions from the News Tribune about their club, the inspiration for their science fair projects and more.


Q: Why did you want to start a science fair club at East?

A: Emelyn Beaster: I wanted to start a science fair club because I’d been given such amazing opportunities through science fair and wanted to share these with my school community. I saw a passion for science in a lot of the students at East, and I wanted to create this opportunity for anyone who was interested.

A: Stella Harbson: Being a part of the science fair has given me amazing opportunities. I knew a lot of other students who were interested in and passionate about science but didn’t have the chance to take their interests further. Creating this club allowed many to develop and strengthen their interests in STEM.

Q: How has the club changed or grown since you started it?

A: Beaster: Last year was our first full year operating the club, and it was difficult to promote the club and gain a good base of members. We ended up only submitting three projects to the regional fair. This year, we had over 30 people initially sign up for the club, and twice as many projects as last year. We were also able to advertise the club using strategies like talking in classes and putting up posters, and we were even able to secure some funding this year for the club for state projects.

A: Harbson: When we first started the club, we struggled to have a lot of students participate in competitions. Through talking to classes and one-on-one with students, we have built a strong passionate community in our school.

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Q: What was it like competing at the regional fair at UMD? 

A: Adele Mamedova: It was fun to see other cool projects from schools near us. The people were very social and the awards ceremony had a radiant energy. The judges were interactive with us and interested in our projects and helped prepare us for state and asked us questions. At state, judges were insightful and more focused on the specifics of our projects and even provided guidance outside of the fair.


A: Rhees Cragun: Regionals was a really cool experience, especially seeing people from around the area who share interests with us. It was really fun to cheer on our peers before their presenting session, and see everyone do so well in the awards ceremony. At state, I got to learn from experts and have them explain things and talk about it. Judges are very invested and care.

A: Beaster: Regionals was a refreshing experience coming out of COVID, because the regional fair was in person for the first time in three years. I love interacting with the judges and other students in person, and especially at regionals, a lot of the judges are community members who are just excited to learn about your project. At state, I appreciated the depth with which judges interviewed us. I would explain my project and then spend the majority of judging time just discussing real-life implications of my project. It ultimately turned into more of an environmental engineering discussion, and I had a great time.

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Q: What inspired your project or projects this year?

A: Mamedova: Seeing a problem on a daily basis including in our high school and finding a solution in a scientific and simple manner. In this case, the problem was sleep in teenagers and people.

A: Cragun: I wanted to study a project in our area that was relevant to us, and I was interested in putting together an experiment.

A: Beaster: I started working with UMD professor Dr. Melissa Maurer-Jones on some of her microplastics research, and she inspired me to look more into topics regarding microplastics. It was intriguing to me that microplastics have these properties that allow them to adsorb many organic substances, and I wanted to see if this applied to organic pollutants and could be used as a form of pollutant sequestration.

high school science club
A sample of awards won by the Duluth East Science Fair Club.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

A: Lucia Nelson: I really enjoy the subject of music. It’s a part of my everyday life, and I wanted to further my past research on how music impacts people on a daily basis in order to continuously improve and innovate my research.

A: Alex Leach: I am just really interested in people and why they are the way they are. As high school students, we see conformity all around us, especially with cliques and things like that. I wanted to study if we can find out when conformity is at its highest (age), and not necessarily try to remove conformity, but change what people are conforming to.


Q: How do you think the work you've done with the science fair club might help you once you graduate from East High School?

A: Beaster: I’m sure that the research skills I’ve gained through science fair will benefit me in college and beyond. I want to pursue a career in research science at NASA or a similar institution, and science fair has given me the critical thinking, reasoning and research skills that I’ll need for the future.

A: Cragun: I now have the skills to set up a scientific experiment when I have a question about something.

A: Mamedova: I made a lot of connections at state with other students and with judges, and I think it’s important for the future to build strong relationships and connect with people in the scientific community.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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