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Released May 6, 2003

By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG - During the last 30 years, Dr. Larry Bellipanni, associate professor of biological sciences at The University of Southern Mississippi, has witnessed the evolution of the science fair. Gone are the days when a "tornado-in-a-jar" or a plaster volcano could bring a smile to the judge's face and a ribbon to its owner. These days, students are more likely to stand in front of flow charts and computer monitors, grilled by judges wanting to know every intricacy of their experiment.

That's what three local high school students can expect next week when they travel with Bellipanni and team of students from Mississippi to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Cleveland, a weeklong competition featuring about 1,200 of the world's most promising future scientists.

"I think we're bringing as great a group of kids as we've ever brought," said Bellipanni, quite possibly the nation's leading expert on science fairs. The author of the only existing dissertation on science fairs, Bellipanni was recently used as a source on a story in the New York Times detailing the changing face of the competitions.

"I think these kids are very scientifically literate, and they're going to be competing against some of the toughest competition they've ever faced in their lives," he said. "It just keeps getting better every year."

Winston Messer, a sophomore at Presbyterian Christian School, was the overall winner at the State Science and Engineering Fair held at Reed Green Coliseum in March. Messer, whose father is a local cardiologist, will present his study on the "Effect of Body Habitus on the Reliability of Cardiac Nuclear Imaging."

"He's using a computer to see how effective nuclear images are in seeing heart problems," Bellipanni explained. This is Messer's second year to attend the international competition, which runs from May 11-17 and features students from South America, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Russia, England and Ireland.

Anthony Yuen, a junior at Oak Grove, designed an electronic polling system using a computer.

Kate Goertzen, a sophomore from Hattiesburg High School, will compete as an alternate. Goertzen will defend her presentation on the "Effects of Wing Aspect Ratio and Wing Shape on Glider Flight."

"She designed her own wings out of balsawood to find out their effects on a glider," Bellipanni said.

Featuring 14 categories ranging from math and computer science to medical health, botany and gerontology, the competition offers thousands of dollars in scholarships and cash prizes.

Mississippi holds seven regional fairs, which send their winners to the state science fair. Fourteen individual winners from the state fair, including three teams - 23 students overall - will take a furnished bus to Cleveland. There, contestants will set up their presentations for the 1,200 or so judges who will interact with the students on a "one-on-one" basis.

Bellipanni, who was recently appointed to a three-year council on the international science fair, said that presentation is only one part of the competition. "Scientific imagination, scientific input - all the things you do in the scientific method," are all part of the test, he said.

"It's set up where all of the judges in that category can go by," Bellipanni said. "They may see anywhere from 150-200 judges, so they've got to be able to go and talk. It's going to be the toughest thing they've ever done."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM