SUNNY SCIENCE AT CITY COLLEGE --------------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org firstname.lastname@example.org 2013 March 4
Introduction ---------- This year I was once again a judge for the New York City Science and Engineering Fair on Sunday 3 March 2013. I forget but it may be my seventh return to the Fair as a judge. Colleague Steve Kaye, earth science teacher at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, and I planned to do the normal routine with his students. We discussed the Fair on the way home from the NYSkies Seminar on March 1st. The Fair is for high school students, both public and private, to show their work on a science project, usually done in the preceding months. Many worked during the previous summer at a lab or institute while others conferred regularly with a scientist as mentor. The Fair was at City College of New York, Hamilton Heights, Manhattan in its Shepard Hall. It is run by the City's Department of Education and the CIty University of New York, with support from sci/tech corporations.
Smooth start ---------- The students, seven of them from Steve's classes this year, had to assemble at the Kings Highway station on the Brighton line at, gulp!, 7AM on that Sunday the 3rd of March. This station is near Madison High School and a yeshiva that also fielded a couple entries for Steve. I took a one-seat ride by bus from downtown Flatlands, about a kilometer walk from my house, directly to the front gate of the train station. I left my house at 6AM to be sure of timely arrival, since there is no telling when the bus comes with the longer headways so early on Sunday. The bus actually scudded into its stop just as I turned base to approach it! I jogged to the bus, rapped on its side panels, and boarded. The ride was quick, with good exchange of riders along the way. I got to Kings Highway station at about 6:40AM. I took a quick breakfast at a nearby coffee counter, one of several already open for business. Then I walked back to the station to see Mr Kaye pacing around. He, too, arrived a little early but apparently did not grab a bite. He had in hand a list of phone numbers for his kids, in case some were not on hand by liftoff time.
Quick assembly ------------ Almost on the dot of 7AM the students poured into the forebay of the station! They came separately and just chanced to arrive at once, within a couple minutes. They were hot to go with their project boards and props. Steve counted noses and checked the students for having all their work. A couple missed certain items which would be good to have at ready during the judging. One left his prime data papers in the school locker, well out of reach now. An other skipped bringing relevant journal articles to show with his exhibit. Otherwise we were ready to rumble.
Fares, please! ------------ Today the 3rd was the first day of the adjusted transit fares. They were announced for several weeks but most people just didn't pay much attention. Because this Fair is outside normal school hours, the school-issued farecards, MetroCards, were not valid. Students had to travel on their own nickel. When Kaye and I advised the students to add money to their MetroCards, we reminded that the fare is now $2.50, not the old $2.25. We also noted that a brand-new card may cost an extra $1.00 in the stead of filling an existing one. It took a few minutes at the farecard dispensers for the kids to fill up but this process went smoothly.
Why so many trains? ----------------- While waiting for the kids to arrive Kaye and I heard many trains shoot thru the station. On Sunday only local service runs, the express being off-duty until Monday morning. Yet trains flowed thru every eight or so minutes. Given that the street under the station (it's on a trestle) was still sleepy with only certain shops open and light foot traffic, why were there so many trains? They were needed farther along the line, closer to Manhattan, where the traffic gets dense, Even on Sunday. It so happened that on the previous day, Saturday the 2nd, I attended a tour of the Coney Island subway repair shops. One feature of the shop operation, as explained by my tour host, was that it take time for a train to reach points of heavy traffic. It may have to traverse light-traffic districts to get there. In the case of the Brighton line, which is handled from the Coney Island yards, there had to be enough trains in Brooklyn Downtown and Manhattan by 7:30AM, else the stations there will be swamped with riders. Trains must leave Coney Island at around 6:30AM, one every few minutes. They will be empty for many stops in outer Brooklyn before getting to Downtown. Then they fill up quickly.
Smooth ride to the City ------------------------- Steve and I, after a final rollcall, herded the students onto the next Manhattan-bound train. There were enough seats for all of us. The kids joked and played around, normal for high schoolers. Mr Kaye coached a couple of them for their presentation at the Fair, reminding them of a this or that incident in the project work. By the time we got to the outer edge of Downtown, all seats were taken and new riders had to stand. When crossing East River to Manhattan the train was loosely crowded. If there were too few trains, we would have been crushed into the cars. Even on this Sunday morning. The design we had was the standard one. We ride to Herald Square and change trains to the train that goes recta menta to City College. The Brighton line ends in Midtown with certain trains turning east into Queens. We bailed out at Herald Square, took count, and walked to the other platform.
No trains here! ------------- At the stairs leading to the next platform were signs all over: 'No D trans running at this station'. The D route is the one we need! Other routes here do not go to City College. Kaye and I huddled and worked out an alternate route. We go back to the Brighton platform, take the next train -- any one -- to the next stop Times Square. There we change to the 1 train, which also goes to City College. The downer is that this route is local, doing all stops. Expresses at Times Square miss City College. We gathered the students and steered them back to the Brighton platform. We got them onto the next train and shoved them off at Times Square. We then herded them to the Seventh Av side of the station and waited for the uptown 1 train. This is normally a fast route with trains every couple minutes, even on weekends. For some unknown cause the train info board said the next train comes in, erm, 17 minutes. Why? No announcement about this but there were several for other service disruptions. We waited. The kids got restless and started to goof off. Finally the train pulled in. It was filled to the gills! Not daring to pass up the train for a second long wait, we squeezed in. No seats but we gathered at one end of the car.
History from the air ------------------ Once the train got going it did gallop along. This route is a sprint that jumps stop to stop and allows only a few seconds to exchange riders. We made good time. Steve and I told stories of how we as students went to City College on this train and the D train. The line is underground except for one station in Manhattan Valley. The ground dips down in a silted-in geological fault. Along this fault in 125th Street, which is why on a street map this street makes a bend at its western end. It follows the fault line. We pointed out that the tracks were really level, judging by the line of windows on adjacent buildings. It's the street that drops down and then rises up again a kilometer farther uptown. I pointed out the old Heat Transfer Research Facility. It was established in about 1950 to become the world's most capable and expert lab for thermal testing of industrial and scientific devices. It was a 'club house' for me with colleagues who worked there until it closed about ten years ago. It's owned by Columbia University, who rebuilt the building for an art school! I also pointed out the Manhattan Project building. This factory- like structure was the initial lab for making the atom bomb! It was called the 'Manhattan project' for its birthplace on Manhattan. The works got too big for the facility and there was concern about spying in so open and accessible a location. The project moved to University of Chicago, where the first controlled nuclear fission reactions were perfected. An other, not really visible, but obvious from the topography, is the Croton siphon. This was part of the original 1840s water main that crosses Harlem River on High Bridge but had to get under Manhattan Valley. The pipe has a 'U' shape, like the trap under a kitchen sink. When filled with water, the pressure in both arms are off-balance to push the water farther downtown.
Hidden history ------------ Steve explained that near the Hudson River end of 125 St were remains of the Manhattan streetcar tracks on the famous three-rail system. The third, middle, rail was a trench covering the power bar under the street. A shoe under the streetcar reached into the trench to press on to the bar to collect electric. This system, one of only two in the United States, was mandated by the Blizzard of 1888. That storm pulled down electric wires, causing deaths and injuries to humans and horses. The City, then consisting only of Manhattan and southern Bronx, banned exposed electric wire, like for regular trolleys. He also explained about the nation's only inner-city nuclear power plant! It was built in the 1970s inside the cliffs of Morningside Park. It's fully complete but then was denied approval for operation! No nuclear reactions ever occurred there and it sits entombed forever. Both of these he could not show because they were hidden beyond nearby landscape.
At City College ------------- After the peek-a-boo rise into sunlight the route enters subway again to hit the next station, 137 St-City College. Compared to the other stations on this line, City College station is a disaster of renovation. The original tile and stone decor was redone in the 1970s into a 'bathroom' motif with garish lighting. Thankfully one, and only one!, original name tablet was preserved, all out of context. It has the City College three-faced emblem in lavender colors. We got off and walked up 137th or 138th (I already forget which!) Street to the College. We were far from the Alexander Hamilton house, a waypoint that Steve shows off to his students at previous Fairs. Kaye went to City College in the 1970s, after the 'fun' days of my own 1960s. Things were calmed down by his day. For me at the College in the 1960s, I pointed out that I, with other students coming from the subway, often had to crouch down along the parked cars. Why? Rioters on the rooftops were throwing on us bricks and hunks of concrete! The 1960s were an, erm, awesome period in American history. It was the confluence of the urban riots, anti-Vietnam, women's, civil rights, black awareness, Communist, education reform, sexual release, maybe other, movements. These all clashed against each other on college campi and City College was no exception. Turning base on the campus, some of Steve students were awed! This is a college in New York?!?! The core campus is by now about thoroly restored to its turn-of-the-20th-century splendor. The red schist and gneiss radiated and the whitestone trim glistened in the bright sunlight. They also saw the ugly, like UGLY!, new building where the judges will take their instruction and breakfast. In addition to the cosmetic restoration, the internal utilities were upgraded and better fire and safety controls were put in. One feature the College had to keep was its own steam system. The Con Edison street steam grid doesn't reach City College so the school built its own steam facility. It runs well, pumping steam hissing and knocking into radiators thruout the campus.
Brother and sister ---------------- We trooped into Shepard Hall, joined by throngs of other contestants, parents, teachers. In the first floor corridor we mustered up the kids. Steve was thrilled to see that one of his own previous Fair winners was now a Fair crew! I forget the name but he was the brother of one of the female students now with us for the Fair! We let brother register sister! We missed the Lincoln statue, tucked into a darker corner of the registration hall. This is a head & shoulders of Abraham Lincoln. As students ourselfs, Steve and I would rub Lincoln's nose for good luck on tests, grades, contests. This is apparently still done by current students because the nose is worn shiny and smooth. After registration we climbed to the second floor, into Great Hall. This is the central cathedral auditorium of Shepard Hall. The core campus of City College consists of this gigantic cathedral of higher learning plus several smaller peripheral halls. In Great Hall we ran into Mr Barry Harvey, a science teacher and associate for Mr Kaye. He sometimes comes to the Fair with Steve and me with his students. This year he went separately. We from time to time during the Fair and at lunch chatted together.
Bring in the judges! ------------------ This year seemed to me to host the largest delegation of judges in my service as judge. Steve, I, other judges walked over to the 'ugly' house to sign in. According to the sign-in clerk we were today some 425 judges! Yet there was no jam or kinks in processing my and Steve's sign-in. The clerk had our folders ready with all the proper papers in them. I was assigned to 'earth and planetary science'. I'm qualified for this, also engineering and physics. I overheard a few judges being asked to consider categories other than their specialties from excess entries in certain ones. There were no major glitches here. The sign-in went smoothly and quickly. We then went into the faculty dining room of the 'ugly' building. (It's real name is North Academic Building.) We were packed chair back-to-chair back and shoved against scores of tables. It was tricky threading the way among the chairs and tables. I looked and looked and looked for the 'earth and planetary science' table and just didn't find it. Each table had a sign on it, but none were for 'earth and planetary sciences'. In prior Fairs the tables were more or less set out alphabeticly on the floor. This year they were all scattered around. I had to ask a Fair usher. She steered me to a far corner, which I didn't notice before, and there was my table. I exchanged greetings with the other four already at the table. Then Steve came along to sit at my table! This year he, too, got 'earth and planetary science' for his assignment. He was the most senior of the judges at the table.
Massive screwup ------------- With so many judges there must be a huge number of entries. Steve clued us to a massive screwup with the entries this year. Students applied thru the Fair's website and filled out assorted forms thru that site. The entry forms were computer-screened for completion. Of the 600 or so applicants, fully 200 were rejected! This was an immense portion, caused by a computer breakdown that chewed up many applications, ruining certain of their forms. It then tossed out those applications for lacking the lost forms. It seems that most students just took the Fair's word and didn't challenge the rejection. Many others appealed and produced copies of their application as proof of completion. The Fair owned up to the computer error and manually reviewed these applications. But maybe 150 or more simply lost out. The weird result is that for this year we had just as many judges as contestants! Goodie! Each judge inspects just one project.
Clear instructions ---------------- No, each judge inspects four to eight projects and each project is seen by four judges. The judges folder had forms to enter the scores. We also had barcode ID stickers to affix to the score sheets. Instruction was by a slideshow with details of the score sheets, judging criteria, procedure for turning in the judging package. Ushers circulated among the tables, as best as they could with the tight packing of tables and chairs, to give us packs of projects. We divided up the projects to give each of us six with no duplicates. Ideally the pack had four copies of each project since each project needed four inspections. I didn't try to check on this but I did notice, while splitting out the project sheets, there were duplicates of at least some. The sorting out became a game of Hearts!
Breaking fast ----------- This year we were well fed. The breakfast service was well managed with good selection of hot and cold items. There was lots of scrambled egg, chipped potatos, bacon, sausage, hotcakes, turkey patties, French toast, muffins, jellies, butter, tea, juice, coffee, milk, pastries, fools, bagels, cream cheese. The food was properly cooked and served with no bombouts. Judging began at 11AM but the instructions ended early, leaving us time to relax and finish breakfast. We routinely scooted back for seconds, which there was plenty of with continual refill of the serving bins and trays. I must have packed in three normal breakfasts! I grabbed up a few pastries, being sealed in plastic wrap, to munch on during the Fair. I didn't have to take the pastries. In Great Hall the Fair set up a table with snacks and bottled water! All during the Fair every one, students and judges, circulated to this table.
Exhibits ------ We were released to Shepard Hall where we got busy with the judging. A couple of Steve's kids had laptops in their displays. He warned them to take the units with them when ever leaving the display vacant. Papers, folders, pictures, takeaways can be left at the exhibit. Steve and I stashed our coats and bags under one student's exhibit to lighten our burden during the Fair. We retrieved them after the public viewing when the exhibits were knocked down. The rules for the displays seemed looser than in prior years. The backboards were of varied sizes, altho they still had to fit within the width of the slot for them on the tables. This was about a half meter wide and a quarter in depth. Some displays had flying or crown headsigns. Props were allowed, notably laptops to show pictures and animations related to the project. This year the build and craft of the boards were more mature than before. Almost all had neatly lettered and printed text, clear and well-organized visuals. It is just so much easier and simpler to do the boards as collages of computer-generated printouts than to fiddle with stencils and felttip. One poor feature was that some displays had text on 'wallpaper' background, making the words harder to read. The exhibits were set up on rows and tiers of tables across Great Hall. With fewer contestants this year, the aisles were roomy and the noise level was moderated. The exhibits were grouped by category, color-coded on a map in the judges folder. The tablecloths were all white. In some previous Fairs the cloths were colored to match the category. Each row and tier was clearly marked by large letters and the projects had clear letters on the table in front of them. It was easy for me to find my projects, apart from they all being in the 'earth and planetary science' area.
Contestants --------- The trend toward more and more 'nontraditional' students continues. There were few 'regular American' names among the students. I did overhear that some students were actually new Americans, arriving in the United States only a couple years ago. They began American education in the high school they now represent in the Fair! It seems that foreign students are stamped with a deep and intense ethic for education. This may come from the lack of opportunities in their home lands, where school may be reserved for privileged classes. In spite of their new arrival on our shores, the topics chosen by the students for their projects were right up there in American concern and interest. Many topics were likely unknown or disregarded in their home lands. Projects could be either individual with a single student running it or a team of up to three students. For a team project, the entire crew was supposed to be on hand for the judging. Since I didn't know how many were in the team I couldn't tell if it was compliant. Every team project I judged had a crew of two to explain it. According to remarks made during the judges instruction, some 64% of contestants this year are female, continuation a trend noticed since the late 2-thous.
Judging ----- I found over the years that fifteen minutes per project was sufficient to let the contestant explain the display and answer questions. Then I take five minutes to mark the scoring sheet. With this pace I finished my six projects in quite two hours, about right on time for the lunch break. When a project was occupied by an other judge I skipped it for a later return. Judges went singly, not as a group. In one year we were linked into groups to inspect the projects. In recent years we were sent off on our own. There was no comparison of scores among judges. We were not supposed to discuss the projects between inspections, like off to one side while marking the score cards. When finished a project the judge initialed a card taped to the display board. This let the student keep track of the count of inspections before he can leave the table. The ambient din was moderate enough for easy listen and discourse. Once in a while I asked for a repeat fo a phrase or word. I forgot to bring my pocket torch to read the shadowed parts of the displays. I felt there was enough material in the better lighting to understand the project. The scoring sheet had several categories of score. In each were several subcategories. Ideally we should assess each point, about 16 in all, separately. I found that for simplicity sake and to be just as fair to the student, I ranked the student for the main group and marked that same score in all the subgroups within it. I did take a break from time to time to cruise the snack table in the back, near the entrance, of Great Hall. It had a variety of snacks and small bottles of water. The table was always occupied by several people from students to judges to Fair crew. I took a couple extra snack bags to nibble on during the ride home. It is very disconsiderate and disrespectful to eat or drink while inspecting a project! I laid down my snack before stepping up to a project and retrieved it after leaving.
The projects ---------- For what ever reason this year we were allowed to keep the student description pages of the scoring sheets for our projects. This let me discuss the projects here. I take up each in alphabetic order. HOW AND WHY DOES LIGHT POLLUTION AFFECT THE VISIBILITY OF STARS THROUGH MEASURING SKY GLOW? The project had special concern for home astronomers, making me excited to have it for judging. The student photographed the night sky from the roof of her house to see how the number of stars varied with sky glow in her district. She showed charts of exposure and aperture but seemed fuzzy on camera functions. She also seemed to neglect the effect of the Moon, which was captured in some of her displayed photos. Overall she was trying to find the best camera settings to get the most stars under the light pollution was over her house. She did mention that in her area new streetlamps were better aimed at the ground and some stores do turn off some of their signs after closing for the night. She didn't know about GLOBE at Night, which I explained and suggested she explore on its and NYSkies's website. PREDICTING VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS. This project correlated early earthquakes around Mount St Helens before its eruption. The student tried to see what characteristics of the earthquakes may foretell the eruption. He found that the quakes gradually increased in frequency and strength prior to the explosion but could make no general conclusion. He used only the Mount St Helens example altho he verbally discussed other volcanos. He had no data relating to later smaller St Helens eruptions, Using earthquakes as a forecaster of impending volcanos is an old strategy yet this project offered nothing really new about this method. REMOTE SENSING EARTH SURFACE TEMPERATURE ANALYSIS: A COMPARISON BETWEEN NASA AND NOAA DATA.The student tried to show that existing data methods to measure ground temperature for global warming were too scattered. She collected data from NASA and NOAA satellites that used LIDAR, radar, and thermometry but she blended them into one dataset. She ignored distinct causes of scatter for each method. She seemed unclear how NASA and NOAA actually compared but showed only that there was a spread in temperature values taken from various reports using these data. She explained that the two agencies do cooperate and that NASA launches NOAA's satellites. SURF'S UP: ESR DATING CORAL AND MOLLUSCS AT SUE POINT AND PIGEON CREEK QUARRY, SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS. This was a team project with two crew. The two women studied the geological change in sea level by tracking certain coral and shells in sedimentary layers in the Bahamas. This location is protected from other geological motion by sitting far away from the edges of the North American tectonic plate. The layers of the animal remains, dated by ESR, in the sediment mark the sea level. The team used only certain animals that lived near the surface of the ocean so that the layer they sit in represents the sea level during their life. The team found that sea level varied in timescale of thousands of years and that the level now is about the highest ever. THE ROLE OF PYRITE IN THE IRON-SULFUR THEORY. This was a team project of two crew to simulate the theory that iron and sulfur under heat and lack of oxygen in volcanos promoted formation of proteins. The team heated glycine on a chip of pyrite in oxygen and argon chambers. Temperatures in the hundreds of Celsius degrees were used, until the pyrite decomposed, like those near volcanos. The argon test allowed glycine to live off of iron and sulfur within the pyrite. The oxygen test failed because the pyrite corroded, ruining its life- supporting properties. THE USAGE OF PYRANOMETERS TO DETERMINE THE SURFACE ALBEDO OF VARIOUS COLORED ROOFING MATERIALS. This was a team project with two crew to find which color of roof cover reflects sunlight best and lowers building temperature. The team measured radiation influx and reflection by aiming thermometric devices, pyranometers, up and down at assorted possible roofing. They tried concrete, regular shingle, grass. They found that green color, from grass, seems best. They neglected the severe physical differences in the material, and the likely interaction of some with water and air. It discussed the higher temperature regime of Camden NJ, with concrete and shingle, versus surrounding countryside, with grass.
All done ------ After finishing my projects and then meeting up with Mr Kaye after he wrapped up his we went to a side room to hand in our scoring sheets. On the cover page we entered the project numbers, which is probably why the Fair didn't ask for the description sheets. The project numbers on the cover page linked each judge to their projects in case of followup. We got for thank-you a metal thermos bottle and, surprise!, a four-way USB expansion unit. This is a cluster of USB sockets to attach to one such socket on the computer. It connects up to four USB devices, altho I'm not sure if they can be used simultaneously. If not, the unit saves the constant plug-unplug when only one USB socket is available.
Last big drink? ------------- We also got a ticket for lunch, served in the 'Ugly' house, North Academic Building. We skipped over to there, waited on a fast-moving line, and got a full entree, one dessert, and one drink. I took the grilled chicken, which turned ot to be rather tasty and filling. The drink cups were the usual large one, holding almost a liter. We filled them with soda or juice, then went to our table, Mr Harvey and an other associate of Mr Kaye sat with us. We bantered about science education. One of us, not me, mentioned that this weekend was the final one before the ban on large drinks kicks in. The City last year passed a law against single servings of sweet or sugared drinks greater than '16 ounces', about 450cc, almost a ha'liter. This is part of the overall effort to induce healthier eating, along with other no-nos of food services. According to the City the campaign over the last several years works because, believe it or not, lifespan in New York is the highest in any large town in the country. Babies born in 2012 can expect to live to, yikes!, 83 years old. Then we all notice our drink cups. All of them were the liter size!! Immediately we all took turns taking pictures of the cups to mark the last chance most of us will have to get them again! There is substantial misinformation about the large-drink rule. You can drink more than half a liter of sweet stuff but in separate cups obtained in separate trips, like a refill or second purchase. It is hoped that the nuisance to do this will curb taking at a given meal such huge quantities of sugared drink. The rule apparently applies only to places that serve food to eat on premises or as takeaway preparations. It doesn't, as far as I understand, apply to store that sell food generally, like groceries and markets. Thus, it seems that you may still get the 2-liter bottles of soda from the supermarket. You can also get packs of small bottles that add to more than half a liter, like a case of canned soda. Anyway, we joked about the new regulations and took a bunch of pictures. Other tables around us overheard us and started also to remember their large cups with their own pictures!
Not quite done ------------ Well, we weren't completely done. Most judges left for home but we had to stay for the public viewing to collect Steve's kids and bring them home. After the lunch, the exhibits were open for the public to examine and the kids had to crew them. This segment of the Fair lasted until 4PM. When we went back to Shepard Hall we ran into one student who was all packed and was on his way home. It happened to be the one with our coats under his table! Steve was annoyed as hall and gave the kid a good dressing down. He made the student stay with him while we went to get our coats and also to let Steve take pictures of his and the other displays. In a couple cases the student already took down his boards. Steve made them set up again for the photos. He also wanted some pictures of his kids at the stage in front of Great Hall because this is where so many famous people, such as Einstein, gave lectures and speeches over the decades. All this done, we gathered the kids and headed home.
Homeward ho! ---------- One student was taken home by his mother, who drove to the College to pick him up after the Fair. The rest of us went by train. The ride home was smooth with no surprises. We took the 1 train to Times Square and the Q train from there to Kings Highway. When the 1 train crossed 125 St Steve I again pointed out the Manhattan Project and thermal lab buildings. Then after we joked and chatted all the way home. I got my bus from the Q train and arrived home at 6PM. This is the normal length of time for me to work the Fair, quite 12 full hours door-to-door.