Local students shine in science fair

Flintridge Prep has done so well in science fairs historically that Laura Kaufman wasn’t surprised when three Prep students took first place at the 61st annual Los Angeles County Science Fair, which was held at the Pasadena Convention Center April 14 -16.

“We have really hard-working kids who come up with really creative projects,” said Kaufman, a Flintridge Prep teacher, adding this year has been “on par” with the school’s past performances. “We have had a lot of success in the past.”

Numerous schools in the La Cañada Flintridge area reported success stories coming out of this year’s County Science Fair, as Flintridge Prep, St. Bede the Venerable Elementary School and Crescenta Valley High had first-place winners. La Cañada High also had a second-place project, while St. Francis had two projects take home third place.

Crescenta Valley High junior Easun Arunachalam earned a first-place award for his project in plant physiology, while Flintridge Prep seventh graders Scott Johnson, Nanita Balagopal and junior Riana Lo Bu each earned first-place honors at the County Science Fair.

More than 1,000 public- and private-school students competed in the Los Angeles County Science Fair, the oldest and largest regional science fair in the Western United States.

Zack Sercel, a sixth-grade Pasadena resident and home-school student, competed in his first-ever science fair this year after getting a St. Bede teacher to sponsor his project, “Solubility of Caffeine in Various Organic Solvents.” The project ended up a first-place winner in chemistry.

“I love chemistry, it’s totally awesome. It’s not only my favorite subject, it’s my hobby. It’s cool, mixing two substances and creating another substance,” said Sercel, who didn’t expect his project to garner a first-place award.

La Cañada High eighth grader Alice Zhai took home second place for her project in mathematics and computer sciences.

It was also Zhai’s first time competing in a science fair and her project, “Bad For One or Bad For All — A Cancer Genome Anatomy Project,” researched the relation between over-expressed genes and cancer.

“[The science fair] was a really good experience for me. I learned a lot about cancer, different genes and got to see other people’s projects, so it was a lot of fun,” Zhai said.

The experience has only fanned Zhai’s desires to become a scientist or doctor.

“I definitely feel like the field of genetics and biology has really opened up to me and I really enjoyed it. I think it’s fun being a scientist,” Zhai said.

St. Francis brothers Alexander Sercel, a senior, and Christopher Sercel, a sophomore, (no relation to Zack Sercel) each took home third-place awards for their projects in physics and engineering research. Flintridge Prep 11th graders Lawrence Yu and Valerie Lam's ecology projects also got third place.

Those students with projects that placed in the top three at the County Science Fair will be among the 134 competitors in the California State Science Fair this Sunday and Monday at the California Science Center, located at 700 Exposition Park Drive, in Los Angeles.

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