John Pazmino
 2018 March 17

    Steve Kaye and I were judges at the 2018 New York City Science & 
Engineering Fair, as we were in many prior years.  The Fair was on 
March 4, Sunday, at City College. 
 Kaye retired from his career at James Madison HS a few years ago but 
is still a science teacher at a private school. His contestants for 
the Fair, three of them, were from this school. 
    Since leaving madison, Steve keeps up with the school's activity. 
He learned that no one replaced him to mentor or support Fair 
contestants. As far as he knows there were no entries from madison 
this year.
    Steve and I spoke by phone in the days before the Fair. His three 
students meet us at the Kings Highway station of the Brighton line.We 
as a group would then travel by subway to City College in Hamilton 
Heights, Manhattan. 
    The big difference this year was the assembly time, 7:30AM in 
place of the usual 7:00AM. Steve explained that the students had 
simple exhibits that could be set up quicker. This, he figured, let us 
sleep an extra half hour in the morning. 

Meeting at Kings Highway 
    I woke up after a solid night's sleep and took a simple breakfast. 
I caught a bus near my house and transferred to the Brighton line in 
Midwood NK A short train ride from there brang me to the Kings Highway 
station shortly before 7:30AM. The air was mild and the sky wa mostly 
cloudy. 1Steve arrived by bus from his house. Two students quickly 
followed. Steve called the third one, who was on his way. He arrived a 
couple minutes later, still within time.
    We all went to the platform for the train. Altho it was early on a 
Sunday, trains on this line were running every eight or so minutes. 
    Traffic on the Brighton line was light with plenty of seats for 
us. The high frequency was for getting trains to Brooklyn Downtown and 
Manhattan, where traffic is heavy. It takes a half hour or so for a 
train  to reach these districts from their depot in Cony Island. While 
the capacity of the frequent trains isn't needed along the Brighton 
line, it is needed closer to the City  when they get there. 
    Steve and I learned  a couple days earlier that there were 
reroutes in effect for the day of the Fair. We had to adjust our 
    The Brighton train does not go straight to Citu College. We 
normally change trains at herald Sq to a Concourse line train that 
does stop at City College. Today that train was diverted away from 
Herald Sq. Our group had to catch it at an other transfer point, 
Barclays Center. 
    The COncourse train arrived in a couple minutes and headed to 
Manhattan. It did shift lines away from Herald Sq, with audio notices 
from the train's conductor. It regained its normal route toward City 
College at COlumbus Circle. 
    It entered Columbus Circle station on the local, not express, 
track. pLatform and conductor alerts advised that our train would do 
all stops from Columbus Circle on uptown. That would add a half hour 
to our trip, which we really couldn't afford. 
    On the adjacent express track was an other train swelling with 
open doors. It was tagged to do the express tops. We all bailed out of 
our train and skipped into this other one.
    From then our ride had no further glitch and we lost only a minute 
or two. We arrived at 145th St station, near City College, at about 

Missing registration
    Steve and I herded the kids along the couple blocks to the college 
grounds and into Shepard Hall, where the Fair was set up. Two students 
were duly signed in and let into the Fair to put up their exhibits. 
The third student had paperwork for the Fair but the sign-in table had 
nothing on the book for him! 
    Steve explained that this student did the application, kept copies 
of the paperwork, and completed the online forms. He didn't get any 
word back about his registration. The Fair replies to each contestant 
with an acceptance or rejection but in his case there was no reply. 
    Steve urged me to go for the judge's breakfast while he dickered 
with the Fair officials for this student. He aught up with me about an 
hour later during the breakfast with the bad news. The kid was turned 
away for lack of proper application! Apparently the online forms 
didn't get into the Fair's records and the Fair did not accept the 
paper printouts as substitute. 
    steve did get the student to team with one of the other students 
to help work the exhibit. He stowed his own exhibit, still packed for 
carrying, under the other student's exhibit table. 

    The judges's breakfast was across the street, Convent Av, from 
Shepard Hall. I hustled over there and picked up my judging kit for 
'Physics and planetary science', one of the three categories I ticked 
off in my registration.
    We all then trooped to the dining hall for eats and some blah-blah 
from Fair officials. 
    The Fair set out a full choice of hot and cold breakfast items. I 
and others heaped out plates and looked for our tables. Tables were 
scattered all over the dining hall with tent signs for the category of 
judging. I found one for 'physics and space science'. A Fair usher  
explained this was merely an alternative for 'physics and planetary 
science'. During breakfast we heard speeches by a couple Fair 
officials, mostly thanking the audience for serving as judges. Slides 
were shown on a screen, way too small for me to read but one of the 
papers in the kit was a printout of these slides. it, uh, was also way 
to small for me to read. On this sheet were thumbnails of some fifteen 
postage-stamp size pictures of the slides. 
    This year there were about 400 judges and 500 contestants, 
rounded. As in prior years we inspect a project individually, not as a 
group of judges, and each project required three inspections by 
different judges. 
    We didn't get specific instructions for the judging procedure, 
altho there was a paper in the kit that listed criteria for assessing 
each project. Since I, with a couple others at my table, were 
veterans, we coached the newcomers on the method. 
    Among those at my table was a fellow from Bronx Science HS. He 
looked bored to death. After about ten minutes of speeches he actually 
fell asleep! The rest of us rustled him awake when the auditorium was 
    Steve Kaye arrived during the talks, taking up a seat at an 
adjacent table. I'm not sure which category he was assigned. He in 
registering chose  physics ...' and 'earth and environmental science'. 

Assigned projects 
    While eating and listening, ushers circulated thru the hall to 
hand out the projects to each table. We  divided the papers among us 
to equalize the number of distinct projects each of us had to judge. 
    Normally we end up with five or sic projects. Each has an abstract 
describing the project and a scoring sheet. After shuffling thru the 
projects, we had only two or three apiece! We flagged down an usher to 
ask if more projects were on the way. There were no more for this 
'physics' group. We really had only two or three projects to judge, so 
we an go home early.
    In previous years if a cetagory had too few projects its judges 
were adsked to inspect other kinds of project. In fact, in one year 
when I mustered up for the judging kit I was told there were not 
enough projects in my group, i forget what it was. Take this othr kit 
for 'behavioral science' in the stead. 
     I understand how this imbalance of judges and projects happens. 
Projects are assembled from applications from the schools. Judges are 
assembled from asking around the science and technical community. The 
two methods are not intended to correlate since there is no way to 
know the rario of projects to judges. perhaps for this year the 
imbalance was recognized too soon befoer the fair to juggle the  
juding kits. 
    I asked Steve about his projects as we left the dining hall for 
Shepard Hall. His table had only enough projects for three each. he'll 
use the leftover time to coach his students etween judgings. 
    There was no table of wrapped snacks!  I normally sweep up a few 
on the way out of the dining hall. These I munch on during the 
judging. This year there was nothing to take. 

Shepard Hall
    The long-running renovation and restoration of Shepard Hall is 
about complete. There was some peripheral construction equipment 
alongside the building. The Fair was set up in Great Hall, the 
cathedral cavern in the main axis of the building. Tables were lined 
up front-to-back parallel to the sides of the hall. To provide people 
circulation, the tables  were set in groups in each row, with wide 
cross-passage between them. At the Great Hall's stage was a 
convenience table to sit at when marking the score cards. The entrance 
end had tables for litterature and Fair inquiries. 
     Unlike in most prior years, the litterature table offered only 
bottled water. No piles of snack packs. i did sip thru a liter of 
water during the judging, but had nothing to ear since at the 
    Each table surface was marked into the spots for setting up the 
project displays. When mustering up the student got a spot coordinate, 
by lettered row  of tables and numbered spot within the two. 
    To simply navigation for the judges and allow banter among the 
students, the categories of project were placed in contingent 
segments of the rows. To further ease navigation, the category 
residing in each row was posted in signs at the ends of each row. 

The displays
    The basic display, as it has been since i started judging, was a 
tri-fold backboard with text, pictures, graphs, maps, *c about the 
project. This year i saw few elaborate displays, with crowns, arches, 
wings. I don't know if the simpler design was a new rule, but it did 
make for a more consistent sightline across the displays. 
    There were almost no props, specimina, apparatus, tools with the 
displays. By now virtually every one makes videos or images of the 
project and shows them on a laptop or tablet computer. The project is 
far more fully described and explained this way and there is far less 
to pack and carry for the display. The students narrated the computer 
show because the ambient noise in Great Hall thoroly swamped the tinny 
computer audio output. The Fair provided electric by power bars 
thruout Great Hall. 
    By now all artwork for the displays was made by computer graphics 
and wordprocs. There were no hand-drawn features in the displays. 

The projects 
    I finished judging my two projects in 40-45 minutes. I had no time 
constraints this year, leaving me to dwell at each project more 

    The two-student team studied the transmission  of infrared beams 
thru mouse brain tissue to compile maps of the tissue structure. It 
used wavelengths in the 120um and 600um range with linear and circular 
polarization. The intent was to use a safer simpler mapping method 
than dissection the tissue and visually examining it under a 
microscope. The method also allowed a 3D image rather than a flat 
microscope view. The beams were produced as a Laguerre-Gauss profile . 
During the project it found that certain values of transmission in the 
images came from tissue areas associated with latent epilepsy. 
    I thought this project was misclassified, it being more like 
medical science than physics. The team explained that the purpose was 
the develop the Laguerre-Gaussian technique and that the connection to 
epilepsy was a surprise discovery. 

    The team of two students examined some 5,000 S-ray sources in the 
Chandra Observatory database for possible new black holes (it spelled 
it as two words). For each they plotted the profile of X-ray emission 
and compared it to known black hole emission patterns. It concentrated 
on sources located toward the galactic center, there being very little 
chance of black holes in the spiral arms. It found 14 candidates, all 
apparently stellar-size, not supermassive, which other astronomers can 
follow up with. This was a good case of 'database mining' where any 
one can examine the compiled information and find new features of the 
targets in the database. With so many observatories letting their 
databases open for public study, home astronomers have a sporting 
chance to make significant advances to astronomy. 

Kaye's students 
    I had only two projects to judge. To fill out this article I here 
describe the projects of Mr Kaye's students. Because I did not judge 
any of them, the details are from my casual dialog with the students 
as we rode to the Fair. I don't know the students's names; I call them 
#1 thry #3. 
    Student #1 investigated the settling time for dust thrown up by 
street sweeping tracks. As a sweeper passes along tt swirls up dust 
particles of assorted size. This, made of harmful matter, is breathed 
in by nearby people. The student collected dust samples and separated 
the particles by size. he found that most particles settle out of the 
air within a few minutes, reducing human ingestion. A good fraction of 
the smallest particles took up to three hours to settle out, posing an 
enduring breathing hazard, specially for people missing the passage of 
the sweeper. 
    Student #2 studied human alertness under high CO2 presence in the 
air. In his school cubicles in a reading room are enclosed by glass 
partitions. A person inside gradually accumulates CO2 that isn't drawn 
off by the room's ventilation. The cubicle was a well that fills up 
with CO2 while the person occupies it. The student gave subjects a 
jigsaw puzzle to assemble while He monitored CO2 levels with a lab 
instrument. He found that subjects lost attention, did mistakes with 
the puzzle, yawned, got drowsy  under just modest excess CO2 around 
    Student #3 devised an electronic stethoscope that avoids acoustic 
distortion. He built a electromagnetic probe for placement on the 
patient and a bone-conduction ear piece placed behind, not within, the 
doctor's ear. All external audio interference and degradation are 
eliminated. The doctor hears a clear detailed signal from the patient. 
To demonstrate the device the student recorded on his cell phone 
several real heartbeats from medical webs and played them as the 

No lunch?
    In past years the Fair gave, when we turned in our scoring sheets, 
a ticket for lunch in the student cafeteria. It gave a free main item 
and a drink. 
    This year, there was none! We got a thank-you smartphone stick to 
take pictures above intervening people, like at a parade, and a 
cetificat of service. Buy no lunch ticket. When Steve and I meeted up 
after our judging, he having only three projects to assess, we went 
with his students to the cafeteria. We weren't that hungry, letting us 
buy a small meals, while the kids gorged on what they believed was 
hearty food. It was glatty school grub. 
    Steve, from his continuing role as science educator, noted that 
funding for the Fair was less than previously. He reminded me of the 
absence of snacks in Shepard Hall, thee being only bottled water. I 
recalled to him that there were no takeaway items on  the breakfast 
    He believes that the evolving agenda of education is shifting 
effort away from traditional science. 

Hamilton's house
    After the Fair Steve and i herded his kids to the subway for the 
ride home. At the north end of City College campus, Steve stopped to 
show how Alexander hamilton's house was once facing the street but is 
now in St Nicholas park. He told how the house was moved, which he 
witnessed and films, then we walked around the corner to the patio of 
the College's engineering school. it overlooks the park and house.. 
    The house is run jointly by theUS  National Park Service and NYC 
Parks Department. Tours and lectures are  offered at or near 
Hamilton's house. 
    Kaye's students didn't know who Hamilton was, except for a brief 
mention in a history lesson. Kaye and I discussed Hamilton's 
importance to new York as building the first city water supple -- 
(which failed for need of clean water), founder of the new York Post 
newspaper, and founder of today's Chase Manhattan bank. he had 
political ambitions that ended by losing a gentleman's duel with rival 
Aaron Burr. 
    Hamilton built his house on a hill overlooking the Harlem Valley,  
in countryside far north of the built-up region of New York. He 
enjoyed his house for only a few years until he died in the duel. 
Eventually the house left the family, changed hands several times, and 
fell into disrepair in the late 20th century. 
    The building was moved once to line it up with the Manhattan grid 
when streets were cut thru its district.. About ten years ago the NPS 
and Parks teamed to move it to a more realistic setting in the 
adjacent park, with a prospect of modern Harlem. 

On the way home
    After about a half hour at Alexander Hamilton's house, we all 
walked back to the subway for a normal ride home. What ever was the 
conniption on the way to City College was cleared up by late 
    Steve let his kids get off along the way as they wanted, I bailed 
out a my station, took a bus to my street, and was in y house at about 
7PM. The entire day for the Fair lasted quite twelve hours, quite that 
as in previous years.

    Serving with the New York City Science and Engineering Fair, so 
far for over ten years, is always a pleasure for me. i got to visit my 
alma mater once a year and to encourage, thru the judging, future 
scientists and engineers. I see new ideas for solving or studying 
science problems. I see how, with databases on Internet, home-based 
scientists can work on programs previously reserved for campus or 
laboratory scientists7