Students shine in Great Falls science fair

Emma Shimerdla and Landon Johnson.jpg
Quinn Phillips.jpg
Van Lutz.JPG
Posted at 5:51 PM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-10 20:00:37-04

GREAT FALLS — Lewistown fourth-grader Van Lutz says he wants to become a NASA engineer - so the Highland Park Elementary School student built a combustion engine that will propel his small vehicle about 3 miles per hour.

It’s not quite the thrust necessary to launch a rocket, but it blew away his expectations when the vehicle traveled more than 200 inches and the experiment gave him more insight into a combustion engine. “Now I really know how it works,” Van said.

Van’s experiment was one of 125 projects presented by 164 elementary school students from 14 schools from throughout the area Tuesday at the Montana Region II Science and Engineering Fair on Great Falls College MSU’s campus. The middle school and high school fairs will be held on Thursday.

“It is so neat to see what the students bring to the science fair each year,” said Dr. Susan Wolff, CEO/dean of Great Falls College. “We hope events such as this pique the interest of the students and foster a love of science, technology, engineering and math.”

Van, the future NASA engineer, explained how he put a combination of baking soda and hot water in one chamber and vinegar in another. The elements were then pumped into another compartment where the elements combined to build pressure. “And that provides thrust to move it forward,” Van said.

Van said he got the idea from watching a YouTube video and then he went about improving it with some guidance from his father, Matt Lutz, who is a pilot. Van had no hesitation when asked about his favorite part: “Seeing it work,” he said with a huge grin.

Belt Elementary School third-graders Emma Shimerdla and Landon Johnson also tackled a project on flight - they wanted to see what kind of paper is best for creating paper airplanes. Why? “If there is a contest at school, we want to be able to win,” Emma said. “Yeah,” Landon echoed.

Each of the students flew six types of paper, ranging from cardboard to tissue paper, three times each to collect data. The winner? “Regular paper,” Landon said. Cardboard paper proved too heavy and tissue paper too light.

Fellow Belt student Mylah Flaten, a fifth-grader, collected data on what kind of compost works best to grow lima beans. Coffee grounds came out on top, followed by dried leaves. Banana peels didn’t yield any results. “I just learned about compost,” Mylah said. “So I wanted to see if I could find out what works best.”

Quinn Phillips, Van’s fourth-grade classmate in Lewistown, combined his passion for basketball with science as looked for “the home-court advantage,” he said. His father, Kory Phillips, played basketball for the Lewistown Golden Eagles and taught Quinn how to play. “I’ve loved it for a long time,” he said. He set out to find out where the best basketball surface is in Lewistown by dropping a ball from the 5-foot mark to see how high it comes off the floor.

He plays travel basketball in gyms across the region, but he said the project gave him insight on where it would be best to play for any future tournaments. “I’d have to say it’s the Civic Center,” he said. Not that he needs a lot of inside information, since he said his travel team mostly wins.

The Montana Region II Science and Engineering Fair has grown quite a bit since Great Falls College took the event over in 2016. For example, there were 58 elementary projects in 2017 compared to 125 this year. 2017 is the first year for which Great Falls College has data.

“It is an amazing opportunity to see what the youth of today are capable of accomplishing and to find out the kinds of things that interest them,” said Dr. Leanne Frost, Great Falls College’s director of general studies and the science fair director.

The Montana Region II High School Science and Engineering Fair is one of five regional science fairs. The top two grand award project winners from the Montana Region II Science and Engineering Fair go on to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Anaheim, California, May 10-15.

The top 10% of participants in the Montana Region II Middle School Science Fair will be nominated to advance to the Broadcom MASTERS national competition, to be held in Washington, D.C., October 16-21.


Fifth grade
Individual: 1, Vannie Urick, Belt; 2, Vince Taylor, Sunburst; 3, Hope Maki, Belt
Team: 1, Ben Hill and Carson Derr, Morningside; 2, Trent Lane and Kegan Vanek, Cascade; 3, Seirra Isaac and Trevor Stanley, Cascade.

Fourth grade
Individual: 1, Cormac Mihlfeld, Lewistown; 2, Szymon May, Sunburst; 3, Nick Bucklin, Sunburst.
Team: 1, Robert Rumney, Isaac Snyder and Kingston Johnson, Cascade; 2, Will Ayers, Gradee Moss and Bryson Smith, Cascade; 3, Elizabeth Breeden, Thatcher Marquis and Auorora Nutter, Cascade.

Third grade
Individual: 1, Lorraine Casey, Sunnyside.
Team: 1, Madi McLaughlin, June Brock and Collyns Yurek, Belt; 2, Ellison Graham and Olivia Knudsen, Belt; 3, Tatum Enos and Leila Budeski, Belt.

Second grade
Individual: 1, Jakob Lechner, Roosevelt; 2, Finnegan Frisbie, West; 3, Gracie Belz, Riverview.
Team: Emily Canine and Madison Jennings, Valley View.

First grade
Individual: 1, Micah Schandelson, Lewis and Clark; 2, Mackenna Belz, Riverview.
Society of American Military Engineers
1, Addy Urick, Belt, $100 winner