Science Thrives at ACLC

Courtesy photo    Kathryn Supremo poses with her prize-winning “Listen to Shapes” project.

Four promising young scientists from the Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC) participated in the Golden Gate Science, Technology, Engineerying and Mathmatics (STEM) Fair and three received awards on Saturday, March 23, in Sausalito. Aidan Gleason, Michael Pham, Katherine Supremo and Emma Willoughby all qualified to attend the Golden Gate event by winning a first place ribbon at ACLC’s annual Science Fair, which was judged by UC Berkeley graduate students in December.

Usually, first-place winners at the ACLC Science Fair go on to the Alameda County Science and Engineering Fair, which was cancelled this year. When science facilitator Patricia Williamson learned of the cancellation, she sprang into action. “We have a culture of excellence around science at ACLC,” said Williamson, “and I did not want to see that falter.” After logging many hours on the telephone, Williamson secured spots for a few ACLC learners to participate in the Golden Gate STEM Fair.

At the fair, 10th-grader Aidan Gleason won a third-place ribbon for his study of methods for reducing evaporation in California’s aqueducts. His hypothesis was that shade balls would be the best method. However, his experiment showed that, “Taking cost, ease of implementation and maintenance all into account, metal roofing over the aqueducts would save the most water for the lowest cost.” Gleason says that his project taught him a lot about overcoming technical difficulties, making precise measurements and creating charts and graphs from raw data.

Kathryn Supremo, a ninth grader, also earned third place for her project, “Listen to Shapes.” She tested how well study participants could identify the wave shapes of different sounds. Her project was inspired by her own experiences with a hearing test and with music-making software. She found that her subjects could identify sine waves and sawtooth waves, but that they were less successful in identifying square waves.

Eleventh-grader Emma Willoughby won fourth place for her project “Fruit into Alcohol,” comparing the how much alternative fuel could be produced from various kinds of fruit. Her hypothesis — that apples would outperform other fruits because of their sugar content — was supported by her experimental results.

Aside from learning about the scientific method, Willoughby learned persistence in navigating an extensive online application process. To future science fair participants, she says: “Your project is probably better than you think. Participate, but don’t go crazy with it. Know that you are doing a good job just by being there, even if you don’t win first place.”

For more than 10 years, Williamson has made ACLC’s Science Fair special by recruiting graduate students from UC Berkeley to serve as judges. Project-based learning, Williamson explained, works best when the learners have an authentic audience.

“Knowing that they will present to UC Berkeley students motivates learners. During their interviews, I can see that they are engaged, challenged and having fun. They love talking about their work, especially with a bright, young scientist who has chosen to come and engage with them.”