High school scientists and innovators shine at the Maine State Science Fair

Maine Governor Janet Mills (center) and the Maine State Science Fair Grand Award winners. Maine Governor Janet Mills (center) and the Maine State Science Fair Grand Award winners.

The forecast for Saturday, March 23 called for a spring snowstorm, but the Maine State Science Fair team was determined to keep their annual celebration of science and engineering going. Two days before the showcase was to be held at the University of Maine in Orono, the staff of Maine Mathematics & Science Alliance and The Jackson Laboratory made the decision to pivot to a virtual event on Zoom.

The team had experience with this format, having gone virtual in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, and having a hybrid showcase in 2022.

Postponing the event was nearly impossible logistically. Stefany Burrell, co-director of the Fair, explained the reason for going virtual: “Canceling this event was simply out of the question. Hundreds of students had spent months working on their independent research and engineering projects, and we wanted to honor that. Their teachers’ dedication was an important consideration as well. While we were all disappointed to miss out on meeting in person, the event was still a great experience.”

Students, teachers and judges all contributed to making this quick switch a success. In just three hours’ time, 84 judges met with 254 students via Zoom to hear about their projects and select the year’s Category and Grand Award winners. Award winners were announced in a virtual ceremony that Saturday afternoon and can be seen on the MSSF website.

The Maine State Science Fair logo

For the eighth year, the MSSF partnered with Maine colleges and universities to select scholarship winners. This year, 22 university judges met with 71 of the students, awarding more than $1 million including 20 full-tuition scholarships and more than $150,000 in four-year scholarships. 

“Seeing students answer their own questions through the Maine State Science Fair is inspiring. Their innovation and creativity give us hope for the future,” said Laura Muller, JAX program director, undergraduate and STEM education. “The JAX education team looks forward each year to working with the students as they prepare, carry out, and present their projects. This year was no exception!” 

This year’s Grand Award winners will represent the state at the Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair in Los Angeles this May. They are:

  • Brandon and Brayon Nguyen of Bangor High School: Seeking a solution for the high electricity demand of hydroponic systems, they created a hydroponic system that circulates water and nutrients and rotates a hydroelectric water wheel, which in turn helps power the system.
  • Joshua Andrew Placides of Oceanside High School: Concerned with the problem of antibiotic resistance, Joshua analyzed over a thousand bacterial genomes. He discovered antibiotic resistance genes likely acquired through horizontal gene transfer from bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria.
  • Aurora Milton of Cape Elizabeth High School: Aurora started her science fair journey last year by producing three different variations of mango-based bio leather and performing tests to determine which was the most successful. This year, she made textiles with a mycelium base, experimenting with different substrates. 

The Maine State Science Fair is presented by JAX and Maine Mathematics & Science Alliance with support from Maine Technology Institute, Machias Savings Bank, Reny’s Department Stores, Texas Instruments, and other local and global companies.