Twelve-year-old Greg Lemich had thrown away countless used alkaline batteries from portable electronic games and stereos before he even thought of trying out the rechargeable batteries he got as a present.
The problem was, the Mayfield Woods Middle School seventh-grader didn't understand how rechargeable batteries worked, and he wasn't sure whether it was worth his time to use them.
But after months of research, Greg became a convert. His project, "Should I Switch to Using Rechargeable Batteries?" tied for first place in the middle school division in the recent Howard County Science Fair, sponsored by Shimadzu Scientific Instruments in Columbia.
"I learned that rechargeable batteries are better, even though they only last a third as long," he said. "You don't throw away batteries all the time. You don't have to keep buying batteries."
And while the money saved is important, rechargeable batteries also help the environment, he said. "The chemicals in [regular batteries] are 10 times worse."
Greg was among hundreds of students who took part in the science fair, a partnership between the private company and the school system.
Dunloggin Middle School's Sabyasachi Guharay also won top honors for his project, "Renaissance in Music Composition." His project involved using computer science and physics to characterize musical rhythms through fractal geometry, an expanding and new kind of math.
The 14-year-old eighth-grader got interested in the project last year after doing a biology lab in which he noticed that wildflowers had different patterns.
"I saw how complex nature was, and I realized how the patterns could not be explained in Euclidian geometry," he said.
He was able to chart the musical rhythms of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and the "Star-Spangled Banner" through fractal geometry, using computer simulations.
In the upper-age division, Howard High School's Thomas Bowers was the winner out of more than 210 entries for his project, "Horizontal Visibility Through a Stained Aqueous Media."
The 16-year-old junior tested whether different shades of color would make it harder to see in water. Although color doesn't matter, dirt does, because it reduces the clarity of the water, he found.
"I thought the color would make a big difference, but it didn't at all," he said. "I just figured different colors of light as they transcend through the water, certain colors wouldn't be absorbed into the water as much as others."
He plans to enter his project in this weekend's 39th Baltimore Science Fair at Towson State University, where he will compete among 145 middle- and high- schoolers.
Centennial High School senior James Hsiao was runner-up for his project, which involved identifying clones on file at a library at the National Institutes of Health, as an intermediate step to identifying the gene responsible for Usher's syndrome, the leading cause of deaf-blindness among Americans.
His project, titled "Characterization of a Micro-dissected Library Clone Mapping Near the Usher's Disease Locus and Carrying a Polymorphic Tetranucleotide Repeat," earlier had earned him a spot as a semifinalist in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He conducted his experiment with help from researchers at the Bethesda-based NIH, where he worked during the summer as an intern.
More than 20 other high school students received outstanding recognition in the contest, including Eric Lemar, Ted Schlossnagle and Andrew Cameron, from Atholton; Gina Basso, John Simms and Graham Guerra, from Glenelg; Josh Siegel, Katie Reytar and Lindsay Kolesar, from Hammond; and April Andrews and Chris Baran, from Oakland Mills. Centennial High School had the highest number of students who received outstanding recognition. They were Wendy Dalpiaz, Mark Iager, C.P. Krishnamurthy, Quang Hoang, Matt King, Felice Sun, Jin Kim, Steven Gravelle, Kellie Blassingame, Ashley Carpenter, Amita Shukla and Preeti Rane.
Eighteen middle-school students also received outstanding recognition for their projects. They were Rhys Ziemer from Hammond Middle School; and James Shipp, Leah Friedberg, Aaron Brown, David Grosso, Jeffrey Bloom, Scott Flor and Andrew Bright, from Wilde Lake Middle School. Mayfield Middle School students who took home honors were Chris Luther, Kelly Stults, Tim Payne, Ryan Graham, Tom Hatrron, Danny Blackwell, Meredith Capps and Genevieve Schrier.