Gooden Science Fair Winners Impress Caltech Student Judges

Eighth grader Tiana Lopez is the first place winner – three years in a row – of the science fair at Gooden.

With science experiments ranging from the effect of seed color on birds to the way microwaves affect plants to how to drive someone insane, students in grades six through eight at The Gooden School eagerly presented their projects to some tough judges — Caltech undergrads who brought both academic scrutiny and pure joy to the school’s annual science fair.

“I want them to get a picture of how fun science really is, as well as understand the importance of critical thinking,” said Alison Lui, an undergraduate chemical engineering major at Caltech. “I could see myself in these students,” she added with a smile. “It was really fun. I’ll be back.”

Tiana Lopez, an 8th grader, was a stand-out winner, having received the highest score three years in a row for her science fair projects. This year, Tiana posed the question: Does electromagnetic radiation have a harmful effect on the growth of green lentil plants? Her conclusion: “I’m getting rid of our microwave.”

“The judges were simply ‘impressed’ with Tiana,” said Laurie Tortell, Science teacher. “Her presentation was stellar, her experiment was incredibly detailed, her research was outstanding.”

Students in Tortell’s science classes concentrate on science fair projects from March 1 through the end of April. “We bring in Caltech students as judges to get our students out of their comfort zones,” said Tortell. “What’s exciting for me is that they’ve taken what they’ve learned in class and applied it to something new.”

First place winners in 7th grade were Michael Antonnuci and Conner Walker, who asked “Does the color of the seed affect whether or not the bird likes it?” Judges noted the project was “well thought out, researched and executed.” Michael was able to answer questions “like an old pro.”

First place winner in 6th grade was Emmett Sloan who explored “which soil do earthworms prefer?” Judges remarked he had a great idea and his presentation “showed individual thinking…his hypothesis was clear and specific.”

One of the judges, Val Lambert, a Caltech physics major, remarked, “I want to challenge the students when they choose an idea to think of all the possible factors that relate to that idea; to go outside the box.”

Other science fair winners were:

• 2nd Place, 8th grade: Natalie Boberg – “How does temperature and pH affect enzymes and their activity?”

• 2nd Place, 7th grade: Maddie Bove – “Does music affect studying?”

• 2nd Place, 6th grade: Natalie Brown and Aspen Helgeson – “Frozen erosion – examining the effects of freezing and thawing on the weathering of rocks.”

• 3rd Place, 8th grade: Sam Christopher and Michael Brennan – “What effect does temperature have on viscosity and surface tension?”

• 3rd Place, 7th grade (tie): Russell Moore (“How does sugar affect the growth of yeast?”) and the team of Danny Walsh and Lauren Anastacia (“How to drive someone insane”).

• 3rd Place, 6th grade: Kathryn Fong: “How fast do seismic waves travel?”

Founded in 1975, The Gooden School is an independent Episcopal School, K-8, where academics and the arts come together. Reflecting Gooden’s high academic standards, and reputation for the arts and service-learning, graduates are accepted by many of the finest high schools in the area including Campbell Hall, Flintridge Prep, Flintridge Sacred Heart, La Salle, Loyola, Mayfield Sr., St. Francis, and Westridge. For more information, visit

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