By Nikki Seymour and Andrew Bolton, Colorado State University Geoscience Graduate Students, and Bob Sterrett, Associate Principal Hydrogeologist, Itasca International, Inc.

On 11 April, 2019 the three authors participated as judges at the annual finals of the Colorado Science & Engineering Fair that occurred on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.  The Geological Society of America has been a Special Awards Program sponsor for several years as part of its outreach program to encourage budding new geoscientists at the Junior and Senior High School level. This year there was a total of 18 exhibits (both Junior and Senior level) in the Earth & Space Sciences category, and 33 exhibits in the Environmental Sciences category.  The total number of exhibits was 329, with such diverse categories as Behavioral & Social Sciences, Engineering, Mathematics & Computer Science, and so forth.

Judging was a challenge due to the large number of exceptional exhibits and participants.  Judging focused on how the student proposed a subject to study, what their scientific hypothesis was, and how they executed their research.  In addition to the student’s physical display and content of their research, judging was also based upon the ability of the student to explain their research and their outcomes.

GSA had three awards for first, second and third places.  The GSA judges independently reviewed all of the entrants in the Earth and Environmental Sciences categories and then determined the winners based upon thorough discussions.  The unanimous first place winner was Ms. Jenna Salvat (Photo #1), a High School Senior whose topic was “A Geochemical and Petrographic Analysis of Metamorphic Units Proximal to the Cripple Creek and Victor Alkaline Diatreme Complex.” Her exceptional work involved teaching herself optical mineralogy as well as other high-level laboratory techniques including interpretation of ICP-MS and XRD data.

First place GSA winner Ms. Jenna Salvat. Photo courtesy of Colorado Science and Engineering Fair - used by permission.
First place GSA winner Ms. Jenna Salvat. Photo courtesy of Colorado Science & Engineering Fair – used by permission.


The second place GSA winner was Ms. Skylar Gale (Photo #2), a High School Senior whose topic was “Induced Seismicity: Relationships Between Earthquake Frequency and Magnitude to Saltwater Injection in Oklahoma Arbuckle Group.”  This is a very timely topic and Ms. Gale was able to use map distributions and depths of earthquakes compared to injection sites to decipher the linkages between injection and induced seismicity. The judges were very impressed not only with Ms. Gale’s work but her well-thought-out responses to high-level questions.

Second place GSA winner Ms. Skylar Gale. Photo courtesy of Colorado Science and Engineering Fair - used by permission.
Second place GSA winner Ms. Skylar Gale. Photo courtesy of Colorado Science & Engineering Fair – used by permission.


The third place GSA winner was Mr. Owen Doherty (Photo #3), a seventh g
rade student.  He undertook research on the topic of rangeland soil erosion.  The topic of his research was “Blame It on the Rain: A Novel Use of Non-Mechanical Methods for Rangeland Soil Control.”  Mr. Doherty lives on a ranch in southeastern Colorado where erosion is a significant concern, and he wanted to understand which techniques could be applied to mitigate the effects of erosion. He was able to show that animal-driven compaction of distributed hay was most effective, and his results have been implemented by his father to control erosion on their ranch.

Third place GSA winner Mr. Owen Doherty. Photo courtesy of Colorado Science and Engineering Fair - used by permission.
Third place GSA winner Mr. Owen Doherty. Photo courtesy of Colorado Science & Engineering Fair – used by permission.


The GSA awards were presented to the winners by Dr. Vicki McConnell, the Society’s Executive Director, on the following night after the judging. Her participation reinforced the commitment of GSA’s outreach to stimulate the interest of young scientists to pursue careers in the geosciences.

The judges were struck by the depth and complexity of the projects undertaken by both the award winners and all participants in the Fair, as many of them tackled graduate-level topics. Both the first and second place winners expressed an interest in pursuing geoscience in college, and asked the judges for more information on the various programs to consider. The conclusion by the GSA judges is that there is a keen interest in the geosciences in Junior and Senior levels of high school, and GSA’s sponsorship of awards encourages the enthusiasm of these budding geoscientists to continue their interests in the geosciences.

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