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Former St. Andrew School student places in Broadcom MASTERS top 300

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Sep 9, 2021

Sophia Smith's project, "How Does Wax Type Affect Burn Rate of Candles?," earned her a first place award for the St. Andrew Catholic School science fair. PHOTO PROVIDED

Four students from Southwest Florida, one who attended St. Andrew Catholic School, were among the top 300 Broadcom MASTERS, the top middle school scientists in the country.

“I am really grateful to make it this far and have the experience. I think it is a great organization and really inspiring for young students all over the country,” said Sophia Smith, who attended St. Andrew Catholic School as an eighth grade student last year. She now attends Bishop Verot High School as a freshman.

The other students include Kurukulasuriya, Fernando and Dhruva Sharma from Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School and Anika Koka from Canterbury School. These students were selected from 1,841 applicants from 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, Guam and Virgin Islands. Florida ranked second among states with the largest number of students who placed in the top 300 with 31 students.

Society for Science founded the program Broadcom MASTERS, which inspires young scientists, engineers and innovators to solve challenges for the 21st century.

Broadcom Foundation President Paula Golden said anyone can participate in the fairs. She said Broadcom Foundation requires that 10 percent of all participating middle school students may be selected by judges based on the quality of their project and the way they communicate their project to judges.

“They select 10 percent of the kids. Sophia is in a very rare pool of kids,” Golden said.

She said the judges look at projects, as well as their application, which includes questions about their aspirations, all without names attached.

“What you end up with is a spreadsheet with a lot of numbers. The top 300 are then selected,” Golden said. “These kids are the top 300. The smartest kids in their school. It’s fun for them at the top 300 level because they get to interact with other kids who are similarly gifted. Being in this pool will allow her to make contacts with future friends and colleagues and they stay bonded.”

The top 300 will get dwindled down to the top 30, which will be determined soon, to compete in a finals program.

Smith said this was her third year of doing science fair, as she participated in 6th, 7th and 8th grade at St. Andrew Catholic School, as it is a tradition for middle school students to participate.

“In my 6th grade year I didn’t get anything. It was about plants and the effects of different light exposures. I was really disappointed because my sister, 6 years older than me, got first place in science fair,” Smith said, adding that she wanted to keep going and get first place. “In 7th grade I got an honorable mention, which was great. I didn’t know I could get that far and I wanted to work harder.”

For her 8th grade year, Smith wanted to do something she was passionate about and genuinely interested in finding out the results. That turned into creating the project, “How Does Wax Type Affect Burn Rate of Candles?”

“I ended up getting first place in my middle school overall,” she said of St. Andrew Catholic School, which she attended for 10 years.

The inspiration for her science fair project stemmed from nice candles her mother bought, which had a glass casing.

“It collected a lot of soot and it was really quite sad. They were great candles, but they looked dirty on the outside. I made my project to investigate why some candles seemed to produce more soot than others,” Smith said.

Her project consisted of testing beeswax, palm, soy and paraffin waxes, which are found in common candle products. Smith said she found that the paraffin waxes produced a greater amount of soot. The others were more natural and less chemically processed.

“I think another part of my project that was really interesting was the contraption I made to test the amount of soot in the burn rate in the candle. I was also testing the burn rate and soot measurement of my candle,” she said.

The contraption included such supplies around the house as pool hoses, metal funnels and candle encasements that helped collect soot. The directed airflow collected the soot in a sort of vacuum function without blowing out the candles.

According to her science fair poster, “At the core, my contraption is made up of a series of hoses that are connected to the circumference of the fan, where they will be vacuumed just enough so that soot can collect on the filters in the system. My methods of data collection were changed in weight of the filters and the transparency of the filters after burning the candles.”

Smith cut the wicks a quarter of an inch, as the directions indicated, but later realized in doing that there was significantly less soot and was not as dramatic in the results as the first time.

Her project showed that soy produced the least amount of soot.

Smith said with both her parents in STEM related fields, electrical engineer and doctor, she is very interested in pursuing something in chemistry, as she wants to help the medical aspect of the world.

Golden said Broadcom set up the foundation a little more than 10 years ago, shortly after an opportunity to assume the national sponsorship for the middle school science fair.

“For us, this fell right into a very important sweet spot,”” she explained. “Our founder discovered his passion for engineering when he was in middle school. A story we have told often as many people kind of wake up to the things that interest them by the time they are 12 to 14 (years old).”

At this age, Golden said it is their view that kids begin to make choices of what courses they want to take in high school, which will take them into the STEM fields.

Golden said young women like Smith have proven to be huge beneficiaries for what the program has to offer. She said they find their passion and begin a peer network of women they stay close to for a lifetime.

“We know it benefits their development and their growth as individuals. We find young women like Sophia to be the types of kids that really define our objectives in creating a strong network of science, engineers and innovators that will lead us out of some of the grand challenges we have in the world,” Golden said.

The Society of Science began encouraging kids in the community to bring forward science and engineering projects 75 years ago.

“Kids observe the world like scientists from the day they are born. Oftentimes it is the failure of our society structure to keep that wonderment going. Kids say and observe things that they look at,” Golden said. “That sense of wonderment and sense of questioning is something essential to science.”

She said one of the things that they feel very strongly about at Broadcom is if kids follow the path in front of them at an early age when given the tools and encouragement, with that they will continue their personal passion, which will ultimately be expressed in their professional career.

“Do the things we love,” she added. “That should be our goal for every kid. The only thing you really are going to love is the things you latch onto.”