Organizers of the third annual Western Idaho Science & Engineering Fair saw continued growth in participation as well as a desire among many students to look for and solve problems in agriculture.

A third of the projects entered in the March 15 science, technology, engineering and math event at Boise State University related to food production or plant productivity, and many others took on environmental challenges.

“We are very interested in allowing students to find issues, and use their processes, to show proof and showcase solutions,” Idaho STEM Action Center Executive Director Angela Hemingway said. “The students are very aware of the world around them.”

Numerous projects looked at nutrition, climate, or how a change in conditions or inputs affects soil and plant productivity, center spokesman Tony Harrison said. Some addressed specific issues on a farm.

“A lot of the rural students come up with some innovative solutions to real-world problems in their community,” he said.

On his family’s 12-acre farm near Caldwell, Vision Charter School junior Gabriel Craven sought a better way to thaw a 300-gallon stock-water tank. He incorporated an insulating cover, a solar panel and an air-conditioning pump to heat water efficiently and keep it circulating — in a system designed to be more efficient than other electric heaters. Finding the right solar panel was one challenge, he said.

Nicolas Medapalli and Jimin Ryu, freshmen at Treasure Valley Math and Science Center in Boise, designed a drone that takes water samples remotely while the craft remains airborne.

They said it is designed to be faster and more efficient than manual testing, and usable in challenging areas such as flood sites and mines. Features include a transmitter for flying the craft; specially designed power sources, controls and software links; and reel-mounted water sensors.

Other students reported environmental conditions challenged data gathering in various settings, from plant canopies and other natural growth areas to suburban gardens.

Hemingway and Harrison said southwestern, eastern and northern regional fairs this year drew more than 250 participants combined, up from 118 last year and 78 in 2017.

The series can qualify students to compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, or attend it as observers in preparation for competing next year.

The STEM Action Center is part of the Governor’s Office and has industry partners.

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