John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2012 March 4
    This 2012 New York City Science and Engineering Fair was about the 
smoothest run in recent years. It convened on 2012 March 4 at City 
College, Hamilton Hts MH. With only one serious downer, not within the 
scope of the Fair, every thing went quickly and cleanly. 
    Mr Steve Kaye and Mr Harvey (I forget his first name) between them 
had eight contestants. I went as chaperone with them as well as to 
serve as judge at the Fair. 
    I started judging for the Fair several years ago when it let out a 
call for extra judges. Mr Kaye, a longtime judge and mentor for 
contestants at his high school, enrolled me. Since then I served at 
almost every Fair with him. 
    We assembled at the Kings Highway station of the Brighton line at 
7AM. The day was mild and the sky was clear with a few thin clouds. I 
donned my heavy jacket for being to hand on a door knob. I quickly had 
to leave it unbuttoned in the warm air, even so early in the morning, 
as I walked to my bus stop. The ride on the bus and train was entirely 
normal for a weekend morning. 
    I arrived at Kings Highway a few minutes before 7 and took the 
chance to buy a new MetroCard. This is the farecard in New York and my 
current card expires in a few days. Having a new one in pocket avoids 
nasty embarrassments if I offer a card that expired behind my back. 
No hablo Ingles? 
    Like in previous years most of the contestants are new Americans, 
students arriving in the United States within the last couple years. 
'Normal' Americans long ago passed up on this, and other, science and 
technical contests. 
    A few students arrived within minutes with their project displays. 
I welcomed them and assured that Mr Kaye will be here soon. He was, 
almost as I finished my welcome. Mr Harvey also came along with two 
more students. Steve took rollcall and asked about the missing 
students. The kids know each other from school and sometimes worked 
together on their projects. 
    For those with no cause for lateness, Steve started to call by 
cellphone. It some cases the student was on his way, leaving at home 
the parents. School in New York starts much earlier than a 9-to=5 
workday, so the kid is out of the house first. 
    Parent answers. Steve asks, 'Is Malawi there? He's due at the 
train station now for the science fair.' 
    Response: 'uoga booga, mumbo jumbo'. The student is in the US so 
briefly that the parents speak only the homeland language! Steve asks 
around for any kid who knows Malawi's parents and can ask them about 
her. A boy volunteers. After some exchange of unintelligible sounds, 
the boy explains that Malawi left home a ten minutes ago and is on her 
way to the station. 
On the way 
    Eventually every one is accounted for and we lineup for a last 
minute rollcall. Because this ride is not part of a formal school trip, 
the kids had to pay their own fare. Their school-issued MetroCards 
aren't valid on weekends. They are rejected by the turnstile. 
    Many students did have separate cards for personal use but several 
did not. Some time was frittered for these kids to buy new cards. 
Steve told them to get the lowest denomination for a round trip to 
keep the expense down  I believe this is $5, which is actually a shade 
more than a round trip, but, OK, just get the damn card. 
    We shepherded the kids onto the train with intent to change trains 
on Manhattan. On weekends only locals run and these do not go all the 
way to City College. The ride was calm with the usual banter among the 
kids. There were seats for most leaving a couple kids to stand nearby. 
    The interchange was at 34th St/Herald Sq, where the train to City 
College passes thru on a different platform. The group in good order 
trooped quickly thru the station to the other platform. 
    In the general weekend busyness of Manhattan,the station was 
jammed with riders. The din was a bit much to hear Steve's 
instructions. He told the students to board a 'D', delta, train but a 
'B', bravo, route also works this station. I had to clarify by 
exhorting the kids to get on ONLY the 'delta, david' train. 
    The rest of the ride to City College was swift. For many kids this 
was the first ride so far north on Manhattan. They just had no prior 
cause to venture this far from Brooklyn. They all loved the rocket-
ride on the express tracks. The lights in the tunnel and on the local 
stops we blew thru were like meteors! 
At the College
    We got off at the 145th St station on the 8th Av line, the closest 
one to the College. We herded the kids to the street and along a few 
blocks to the campus. The air was now quite warm, like a late spring 
day. We stopped briefly at the former site of the Alexander Hamilton 
House, which is now around the corner in St Nicholas Pk for a more 
historical setting. Hamilton's statue is still in place in the empty 
lot, lonely and probably neglected. There seemed to be no signs 
calling attention to the house's new location. 
    The Fair was in Shepard Hall the grand cathedral of the College. 
We mustered up the students according to last name and got them set up 
in the Great Hall, the cathedral salon of Shepard hall, at their 
proper tables. Steve gave each display a look-over. All passed the 
smoke test. 
    We brang several students to the Abraham Lincoln statue near the 
registration tables to rub its nose. This statue is a bust of the 
president tucked against a column. It can be missed by a casual 
visitor. Rubbing the nose gives good luck, just as it did for Steve 
and me when we were students at the College decades ago. Several kids 
missed this ritual because they were already heading into Great Hall 
to find their tables. 
Judges orientation
    With the kids set up in Shepard Hall we all skipped across the 
street to the North Academic Center for the judges session. If you 
ever need an example of glatt ugly design, use this building! It's in 
the 1970s 'destructionist' style that really looks like a disaster. 
    I had only a quick small bowl of cereal before leaving my house. 
Kaye and Harvey skipped breakfast. All of us were hungry. The judges 
orientation included a buffet breakfast with hot and cold items. Every 
one stocked up heavily and then sat at tables labeled with their 
    I can judge several categories but this year I was assigned to 
'earth and planetary sciences'. This table had four other judges, with 
two being here for the first time. We others coached them on the 
purpose of the Fair and the need to be honest with the contestants. 
    After a few speeches by Fair officials, instructions were issued 
to the horde. I do mean 'horde' because there were about 300 judges! 
    Each judge when entering the judges hall got a pack of forms 
common for all categories. This was explained over the PA while we 
chowed our breakfast and went back for seconds. For each category Fair 
crew passed out project-specific papers, which we divvied up among us 
to allot six or seven projects apiece. Each project will be assessed 
four times at separate visits by the judges. We did not circulate as a 
team. I ended up with six projects. 
    The scoring sheets were this year good and clear and easy to read! 
In some prior years I had to struggle to make out tiny writing and 
fill in spaces on the hoof in Great Hall. The forms this year had 
large dark-printed lettering and clearly impressed fill-in circles. 
With the forms was a large solid clipboard that was a lifesaver. 
    Soonest we sorted out our forms and finished breakfast we were 
released to go to Great Hall and begin the judging. Altho there was no 
time limit per project, the whole judging period was two hours. From 
prior experience this was handily enough time to work six projects. 
The judging
    The exhibits were set up on tiers and rows of lunch tables 
deployed in Great Hall. This year there were about 550 projects, some 
with two or three students as a team. The slightly lower number of 
contestants allowed for wider aisles between tables. Circulation 
during the judging was free and clear. 
    As it happened, all of my projects were on one table in the 'earth 
and planetary sciences' area of the hall. This arrangement let me 
finish my projects within 1-1/2 hour, with leftover time to relax and 
study other projects as a spectator. 
    When a judge did a project he initialed a completion card tacked 
to the display. That way the student tracked the number of his 
inspections, there being four per exhibit. 
The projects
    This year all but one of my projects were good ones. The students 
knew what they were doing and answered my questions well. The one weak 
project happened to about astronomy and earned only a middle score. Mu 
projects, in alphabetic order, ere: 
    AGN IN THE 'COSMOS' FIELD. The student examined spectral profiles 
for galaxies in the Cosmic Evolution Survey field, a two-degree area 
of sky. The data came from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The active 
galactic nuclei, the student explained, may be quasars or blackholes 
interacting with material from the galaxy. When the material nearby 
runs out, the luminous emission falls off. Of the galaxies in the CES 
field, 434 were Seyfert galaxies, with high total radiation emission, 
and 14% had low luminous output. 
MEDITERRANEAN. The team of three students collected mollusk shells 
from several places in Greece and Turkey and dated them with the ESR 
technique. They found that samples from sedimentary rock at similar 
elevations above present sea level were of different ages. The team 
suggests that certain places were uplifted by tectonic activity, 
pushing younger shells to higher elevation. 
bone and joint movement of elbows for primates and humans. Primates 
use their arms to support body weight in walking and have a restricted 
range of motion. Humans do not. Yet the overall structure and joints 
are similar.
TRACKER DATABASE. The student tried to find observable parameters of a 
newly formed storm that can predict precipitation produced by that 
storm. She found that there was no obvious correlation between any of 
the measured parameters of storms and their rainfall except for the 
cloud temperature. There was a weak function of temperature versus 
rain, with warmer clouds at the start of the storm yielding more 
precipitation. She took data from about 200 storms from National 
Weather Service's Storm Tracking database. 
examples of star spectra from various sources to arrange them in 
categories. She found that most spectra have a continuous background 
caused by high temperature. The images showed the shift of peak 
blackbody emission for temperature but she didn't call attention to 
it. She pointed out the gradation of spectral lines in her arrangement 
but could not explain how they are formed. She continuously said 
'SPEKK-troh-skoh-pee' rather than 'spekk-TRO-sko-pee'. 
BACK IN THE ADIRONDACKS, NEW YORK STATE. The student examined the 
mortality of spruce trees on hills in the Adirondacks. He explained 
that 'azimuth' is the side of the hill the tree was on. He compared 
his work with a previous study from 2003-2004 and obtained about the 
same results. There was almost no correlation for azimuth and 
reasonable relations for elevation and climate. In general the higher 
trees had higher mortality because they were more exposed to winter 
cold and wind. 
Completion and lunch
    When I finished all six of my projects I handed in the scoring 
forms to the Fair's officials in a separate room and collected my 
thank-you prizes. These were an umbrella with a Science & Engineering 
Fair motif and a Rubik's cube of similar design. This latter was a bit 
peculiar. It was a key chain with a clasp on one corner to hang, well, 
keys. I can't see anyone using it this way. The cube, about 6cm on the 
side, is much too bulky for any pocket. 
    The umbrella fooled me. It had a plastic cover which I slipped off 
and then tried to pop it open to make sure it worked. No action. I 
looked for a snap to loosen as most umbrellas are held closed with it. 
No snaps. After much fiddling I realized the canopy was a second, 
cloth, cover. When I pulled this off the umbrella, because the release 
button was already pressed in, flew open in my hands and tumbled to 
the floor!  Yes, those around me had a good laugh. 
    We also got a lunch ticket for the student cafeteria. It allowed a 
selection of full meals, as such are offered in a college cafeteria. 
Steve and I went for lunch. Harvey got separated but we joined up with 
him later. 
The cockup!
    City College on weekends is usually quiet with only a few hundred 
students on campus. The cafeteria crew is notched down to match this 
expected level of service. Today the cafeteria was hit by about a full 
thousand of judges and students all at once in early afternoon. The 
place was swamped. 
    The wait was miserable with much griping and grousing among the 
waiting customers. The lines creeped slowly. The serving crew 
occasionally barked out that such-&-such item was depleted. After 
around 40 minutes we got to the serving counter and took meals. In the 
crowd Steve and I got lost but we had to return to the Great Hall 
later. I didn't worry. 
    This situation was not the fault of the Fair. It's far more likely 
that the College simply didn't post a large enough crew or ample 
enough stock of food. 
    The food was, uh, so-so. OK, filling, yet hardly tasty. I finished 
my plate in only ten minutes, then headed back to Great Hall. 
Public viewing
    The public was invited to visit the Fair and inspect the projects 
from 2 thru 4 PM. I included this event in the March 2012 NYC Events. 
This period spanned the lunch break for the judges and students. When 
I arrived back in Shepard Hall the exhibit room was filled with 
visitors chatting with the project contestants. Many displays were 
uncrewed because their students didn't get back from lunch yet. 
    The public viewing tied the student to the exhibit long after 
judging was complete. In some previous Fairs the viewing was in the 
morning, during the judges briefing. The judging was in the afternoon. 
When a project received its full number of assessments, usually four, 
it could knock down. This time every one stayed in place until 4PM. 
    The knock-down triggered at quite 4PM after a PA announcement that 
the public viewing is over. Within ten minutes just about every 
exhibit was folded and packed! Harvey and Kaye gathered their students 
and checked that they were ready to rumble homeward. We set off for 
the 145th Street station. 
    The ride home was smooth with a quick change again at Herald 
Square. Steve allowed kids to get off the second train along the way 
if that was convenient for them. He didn't insist they stay on all the 
way back to Kings Highway. I bailed out at Avenue J to get my bus and 
got into my house by quite 6PM. .