Governor's School Students Win Awards at Regional Science Fair
Their Science Projects -- Building a Telescope & Investigating Water Quality in Area Streams to Determine Impact on the Potomac River
Morgan Carter, Trevor Wolf, Monique McGough

“Amazing!”  Rich Newcomer’s single word was loud and clear.   “These students and their projects are amazing,” he declared.

 The “amazing” students Mr. Newcomer references are enrolled in the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School (MRGS) where he is a science teacher.    And their “amazing” projects were entries in the Shenandoah Valley Regional Science Fair held at James Madison University on March 11, 2014.
  (Pictured above, from the left,  are Morgan Carter, Trevor Wolf, and Monique McGough)

According to Susan Fream, Director of the Governor’s School, this was the first time that students from the school have entered the Regional Science Fair.    “Three students entered the Fair,” she reported.  “And all three won awards.”  

Because environmental science and technology are the focus of the curriculum of the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, the decision to enter the Shenandoah Valley Regional Science Fair was a logical choice and was, as well, welcomed by the students.


 Monique and Morgan at the Fair at JMU
Monique McGough and Morgan Carter are all smiles in front of their display at the Regional Science Fair at JMU on March 11, 2014.
Trevor Wolf's Display
Trevor Wolf created this display to accompany his "homemade" Dobsonian Telescope.

Morgan Carter and Monique McGough, who attend Strasburg High School and the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, presented a project that examined the tributaries of the Potomac River to determine if the water quality of these tributaries is a cause for dead zones in the Potomac River. 

Dead zones are areas in which marine life cannot exist due to a lack of oxygenated water.

Morgan explained that through the process of eutrophication, oxygen is depleted from the water.  Overuse of fertilizers from golf courses, homes, or farms accelerates the growth of algae.  As the algae decompose, aerobic bacteria take the oxygen from the water.

Morgan and Monique conducted both chemical tests and macroinvertebrate measurements on Manassas Run, which flows directly into the main stem of the Shenandoah River (Front Royal), Abram's Creek of the Opequon Creek (Winchester), the Gulf Branch Stream (Arlington), and Bull Run of the Occoquan River (Manassas).   Their chemical tests included testing the temperature, alkalinity, dissolved oxygen, low-rang phosphate, nitrate, and pH.  Chemical tests, Morgan said, are good indicators of recent pollutants in the rivers and streams.

 Measuring nitrogen
Here they are measuring levels of nitrogen.

 measuring phosphates
This instrument measures the level of phosphates in the water.


streams.  Morgan and Monique used a net to capture macroinvertebrates, which are small aquatic organizms lacking a backbone that are visibl to the human eye. After Morgan and Monique identified and counted these very smalll organisms, they released them.  The number and the kinds of macroinvertebrate life found in the water are an indication of the long-term health of the river or stream.   An abundance of leeches and lung snails woul indicate poor water quality, for example.
 Macroinvertebrate creatures
Their catch of macroinvertebrates includes many caddis flies indicating good water quality.
 Kick net used to capture macroinvertebrates
Monique and Morgan examine the creatures caught in their kick net.  They "embraced" the cold weather said Morgan.

 Their research took place from the cold months of October through March.  Morgan wrote, “We embraced the snow on the ground and the chilly water on our hands when we scrubbed the rocks on the riverbed to collect the macroinvertebrate samples.”

Our researchers were surprised when they found the worst water quality in the Gulf Branch Steam in Arlington near an area where there were not farms, but instead a housing development.  They observed a lot of sewage pipes emptying into the Gulf Branch Stream.

Their project, titled "Does Virginia Affect the Potomac's Dead Zones?" won two awards: Virginia Lakes and Watersheds Association Award and the American Water Works Association Award.

Trevor Wolf, who attends Central High School and the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, won First Place in the Physics and Astronomy division and will compete at the state level on March 29, 2014.  He also won the Air Force Award and, according to Dr. Thomas Devore, Director of the SV Regional Science Fair, Trevor’s project was among the contenders for “best in show.”    Trevor designed and built his own working telescope.  Since astronomy is one of Trevor’s personal interests, he set out to determine if “it would be possible to build a telescope in our garage?” 

Finding the answer was not inexpensive:  his project required plywood for the frame and some hardware including ball bearings and two mirrors.  The primary mirror costs $300.  That mirror appeared on Christmas morning under the tree. 

Trevor's Dobsonian Telescope

Trevor understands how telescopes work—knowledge which made his building the telescope rather straight forward—at least for him.  He explained the process in an email:

"The telescope that I designed is based upon the Newtonian reflector. This type of telescope utilizes as concave mirror in order to magnify the image. When light hits the mirror it is reflected up the tube of the telescope and to a flat, round mirror where it is reflected towards the viewer. By knowing the size and focal length of the primary mirror, I was able to build my telescope to maximize the primary mirror’s light gathering potential." 

 ​​​And, Trevor added this physical description:​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

"My telescope has a 12" f/primary concave mirror.  These values determine the focal length and length of my telescope, which is about 60 inches.  The actual optical setup is mounted on a Dobsonian mount; an alteration of an alt-azimuth mount.  this type of setup pivots along a horitzontal and vertical axis to locate any object in the visible sky; the actual mount is circular with a diameter of 26 inches and a height of 20 inches." 

Trevor’s finished project works beautifully!    He can view the planets and the moon and the stars from his own back yard  Trevor Wolf and his Dobsonian Telescope 

Trevor’s finished project works beautifully!    He can view the planets and the moon and the stars from his own back yard.   

All three MRGS’s students had a solid beginning for their science projects.  During both of their years at the Governor’s School, all students must complete a Research in Education class.  This course is offered as a dual LFCC logoenrollment course through Lord Fairfax Community College and those students that elect to dual enroll the course receive 3 college credits with LFCC while also earning high school credits with Shenandoah County Public Schools.   The major requirement of this course is the completion of a year-long Research Project which is based on each student’s personal interest.    All three of this year’s fair entries germinated from the students’ Research in Education projects.  

Plans are for more students to enter the Regional Science Fair next year.   “Our students’ entries in the Regional Science fair can easily be connected to their Research in Education projects,” Rich Newcomer explained.  

The Shenandoah Valley Regional Science Fair, which is affiliated with the International Science and Engineering Fair, includes students from Lexington through Clarke County and from the West Virginia line to the top of the Blue Ridge Mountain. 

Dr. Tom Devore, Director of the Shenandoah Valley Regional Fair, reported that in 2014 there were 115 individual projects and nine team projects in the senior division and eighty-six individual projects and two team projects in the middle school division.  While the Regional fair is open to all interested entries, Dr. Devore reported that “Many of the projects were winners in local fairs prior to the regional fair.  And so the quality of the projects is generally very good.” 

Sixteen winners from the Shenandoah Valley Regional Science Fair will advance to the Virginia State Science and VA State Science & Engineering FairEngineering Fair, which will be held at the Virginia Military Institute on March 29, 2014.  Trevor Wolf is among these sixteen entries.

“The students we are sending to the state are impressive young scholars, “commented Dr. Devore, “and I think they will represent us well.  However, I think the best thing about this competition is that these students will get a chance toDr. Tom Devore JMU interact with some of the best science students from across the state.  The discovery that everyone had to struggle and overcome set-backs before reaching the success exhibited by their projects will probably be the most valuable experience gained from the trip to the VSSEF.   A few awards would be nice too. “ 

 Winners from the Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair, as well as the two Grand Prize Winners from each Regional Fair, will advance to the International Science and Engineering Fair, which is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles, California.