Again this year in early February I had the privilege to represent FMW Audubon as a special awards judge for the West Panhandle Regional Science and Engineering Fair held at the University of West Florida. Each year FMWAS sponsors Special Awards in the Senior Division for the regional science fair.

This year I interviewed 32 students about their research and experiments to determine the Special Award recipients. The criteria are broad enough to include all of the competition categories. The guidelines focus on projects with an environmental theme that could have a positive impact on our earth and the organisms living here.

I am happy to report that a large number students presented projects focused on solving problems we are facing that involve climate change, the effects of acid rain, contamination of our water sources, mounting plastic waste and particulates in the air. I have no doubt that these young people will have a positive effect on our world!

This year we presented awards to three research projects. These FMWAS Special Award winners include a repeat winner from 2019, Claire Han. Claire continues to focus her projects on finding ways to clean water. This year she used different charged media to remove heavy metal ions from contaminated water. She was successful and the results are steering her research toward more tests of positively charged media.

Another researcher, Kaelyn Peeler, also focused on different combinations of cost-effective media to remove particulate matter and bacteria from contaminated water to provide safe drinking water. She produced four successful contaminate-removing combination filters small enough to be portable.

The third project was a team effort by Jenna Kruse and Bailey Bullion. They used mealworms, the larvae of a species of darkling beetle, to investigate their consumption of several types of plastic. Since mealworms can digest plastics because of microorganisms in their gut, the resulting building blocks of plastics can be further studied to find ways to make them non-toxic and compostable.

The FMWAS Special Award includes a certificate of excellence, an appropriate book for a young scientist, a copy of the FMWAS Skimmer newsletter, a FMWAS t-shirt and a year’s membership in National Audubon Society which includes Florida Audubon as well as Francis M. Weston Audubon Society.

By Jan Lloyd