SIKEST0N - Kendra Riddle and Chelsea Grigory's hard work and determination have paid off in a big way. Not only did their science fair projects take them in March to the Regional Science Fair, but they were the top two picks out of all the competing schools in Southeast Missouri to progress on to the upcoming International Science Fair set for May 12-18 in Louisville, Ky.
Sikeston Public Schools hasn't had two students in a row make it to the international level since the 1960s.
"It's also the first time in 40 years that we sent two students at the same time to the International Science Fair," noted Cliff Lankheit, director of the local Science Fair and chairman of the high school science department.
Riddle, who went to the international event last year, says she was surprised at hearing the news but admitted there wasn't as much competition as the year before.
"There weren't as many projects," the high school senior said. "There will be lots of people I'll be up against at Internationals. Last year I got a $1,500 scholarship for four years to University of Missouri at Rolla and I hope to get a bigger one this year."
For her project Riddle mixed a polymer used to absorb moisture in diapers with sand to create a sandbag. She found that when water comes into contact with the mixture, the polymer expands 100 times its normal size. It makes the sandbag stronger and holds up better than regular sand. As a result, not as much sand has to be used which makes the sand bag lighter to lift and transport.
Probably one of Riddle's biggest fans is Wanda Troop, her science teacher, who couldn't be prouder. She attributes part of her student's success to her family's support.
"Kendra is just very considerate of others, she's very patient and very well liked," said Throop, who's been working with Riddle on different phases of the project for the past three years. "She is willing to help everybody else. She helped other students with their presentations and their projects so there was no competitiveness. She's even offered to help Chelsea with her statistics and anything else. I'm so impressed with her desire to help others with what she has learned. I am really lucky to get to work with her."
The educator said she wasn't surprised that Riddle did so well because of the student's creative ideas and job well done. The only thing she was up against was competition that typically has better resources.
"When we go to St. Louis for the State Science Symposium, most of the students presenting do all of their research in the University of Missouri at Kansas City's research facility or the University of Missouri at St. Louis' research facility. They usually work with a professor or a doctor. That's why it's very difficult for our students down here in the Southeastern part to compete, we don't have a research university available for these kids to go and work in. I think that's one reason we're excited, surprised and proud."
In addition to the International Science Fair, Riddle will also be attending the National Junior Science & Humanities Symposium April 24-28 in San Diego, Calif.
Of the 250 students chosen to attend the symposium, only 36 were selected to make presentations and Riddle was in the top six. She left the event having earned the Capota Creativity Award for her project, which was a $1,000 grant.
"It's a big deal," Throop remarked. "We've had students asked to present their projects in the past, but we've never had anybody win in their division and be chosen to go to the national symposium before."
"Yeah, it was pretty awesome," Riddle agreed.
At the State Academy of Sciences, Riddle will give an oral presentation of her research and compete against other students in the high school division.
Their achievements not only say a lot about the two students, but the entire R-6 District, Lankheit pointed out.
"I think they're just self-motivated, they like to win, they like science, they like to explore and make new discoveries," he said. "Put all that together and you get two very competitive science students. I would also say we have one of the best science faculties, I think, in Southeast Missouri. They are very dedicated teachers and they work with those kids. They spend many hours after school helping them plan and prepare and they make themselves available in the science lab for them. All that together is why we do so well."
And when you think the good news can't get any better, Lankheit also reported this is the first time ever that a ninth grader has gone to the International Science Fair.
Grigory's project was based on determining whether or not money contains traces of cocaine. She obtained the bills from local banks and did her study at the crime lab in Cape Girardeau. Her theory proved positive.
"I heard on television and the radio that 99 percent of all U.S. currency in circulation was tainted with cocaine," the 15-year-old explained. "I thought that would be pretty interesting to examine. I tested 30 bills, ten each in the denominations of $1, $20 and $100 and we found that five out of the 30 were tainted with cocaine. It's not 99 percent, but it's still pretty amazing."
Although she thought it was a good topic, she said she never dreamed she would find herself going to Internationals. "I was tickled to death, I cannot tell you how excited I was. I'm nervous about Internationals because there are going to be about 1,200 students there from all over the world so I'm not going with any expectations. I don't want to be disappointed," she admitted.
Grigory's science teacher praised her student for the project she chose, describing her as hard working and enjoyable to be around. "She tested something that was not knowingly exposed to a source of any kind of cocaine, that's where it differs and it's remarkable," said Marilyn Lambert. "Anything that she needed to do she jumped right in and did it even if it was something she didn't know."
Riddle and Grigory will also be heading to the State Junior Academy of Sciences April 18-19 at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield.
"I'm just in awe with what these students have accomplished," said Lankheit, who's been involved with the local Science Fair since it started 25 years ago. "I always think the kids have good projects and they're going to do well but they just continue to surprise you. To tell you the truth I'm just flabbergasted."