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Science Gets Its Annual Due at Fair

Times Staff Writer

More than 1,000 exhibits probed the secrets of computers, ecology, the social sciences and other topics Thursday, the work of some of the best and brightest students who entered the 53rd annual Los Angeles County Science Fair.

The students, from 160 private and public schools, competed for scholarships, medals and cash. By day’s end, 120 had been chosen to advance to the statewide science fair later this month.

“It’s so exciting,” said sixth-grade science teacher Chuck Candel, as he toured the Los Angeles Convention Center. “I had goose bumps.”

Candel, who teaches at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, saw two of the school’s 13 competitors advance to the next round. “Last year, we were just observers,” Candel said. “It shows that hard work really does pay off, and it’s rewarding for the students because this is their one special thing during the year they can work on.”

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Palos Verdes Peninsula High School did particularly well. Eleven of the 13 students who entered garnered honors at this year’s event -- including winning first place in five of 20 categories.

Palos Verdes senior Vijay Yanamadala -- who won big at last year’s science fair Super Bowl -- took first prize in ecology. His project is a filter that took pollutants out of a local lake.

Chemistry teacher Peter Starodub said projects like Yanamadala’s pay dividends other than awards. They look good on college applications.

Yanamadala had offers from Caltech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard -- where he sent his acceptance letter Thursday.

“Colleges want to see that students can do individual thinking, that they can do more than regurgitate what’s in a book,” Starodub said.

Science fair judges are also looking for thinkers, but maturity, practicality and teamwork are more important than the scientific method, said Aaron Schwartzbart, a physicist at the Boeing Co. who has judged fairs for 15 years.

“The sharpest kids are doing things that make me either consult with my colleagues or get on the Internet just so I can keep up in the interviews,” Schwartzbart said. “I saw something today that we may be able to take back to the space program.”


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