Chemically Organic Vegetation Ignites Data

West G. Junior Place 1st in STEM Competition

Image Courtesy Mr. Bishops Blog

Image Courtesy Mr. Bishop’s Blog

West Geauga High School 11th grader, Ryan McGinnis, won 1st place in the Northeast Ohio Science and Engineering Fair! 

The Northeast Ohio Science and Engineering Fair (or NEOSEF) is a S.T.E.M. competition where a variety of students from both public and private schools enter research projects. For those not familiar with the acronym, S.T.E.M. stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. 

Ryan initially joined the fair because long – time science department teachers Mrs. Ali Ledman and Mrs. Kristin Gregory, “…promised me extra credit.” After the initial bonus phase was over, however, he continued to participate because, “I got to meet amazing STEM professionals, win money, and explore science.” He also noted that it was an enjoyable experience, pushing himself to do the project and further his knowledge of science. He continued, “I would also like to mention that I was inspired by the brilliance of Rick Kirk and Antonio Linek. When I was a freshman, they were seniors and had some really high-level amazing projects. They inspired me to continue the science fair.” 

The name of Ryan’s project is…get ready for this…Gelatinization and Hysteresis of Organic Compounds to Create Edible Shelf Stable Adhesives. That’s a lot, so we will be using the shortened title, Creating Edible Adhesives. 

“I used tapioca starch (from the cassava root) and agar (gelling agent derived from seaweed). I experimented until I developed the best process to consistently make the strongest, shelf-stable adhesive. I developed my own testing standard that actually improves upon the horizontal peel test by ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials) to determine the ideal adhesive,” he explained.

Ryan mentioned that he has a list on his refrigerator of every idea he has had since he was four years old and that when he was five and his spring roll fell apart, he got the idea of food tape. So when he was brainstorming what to do for the fair it was, “…easy to decide on making a food adhesive.”

As he is currently working on a patent for his idea and formula, he cannot tell us specifically about his tape, but he can share his procedure. “The first step is lots of research.” He spent hours trying to figure out if and what had already been done with a food tape, which was nothing. Research also expanded the knowledge and vocabulary he needed to better explain his project.  

After research he carried out a plan to test his design. He explains, “The first step of my procedure is to combine some tapioca starch to make a flour slurry.” (We know everyone knows a slurry is a semi-liquid mixture….but, just in case, we’ll throw that in here…). Next, he made an agar solution and then mixed the slurry and agar. He then heated the mixture until it gelatinized. After gelatinization, he tests his tape’s strength and stickiness.  He also, “…tested the composition of the flour slurry, concentration of agar solution, and heating method.” Based on those results, he determined the best possible adhesive.

The NEOSEF has two rounds of judging, so when he heard he won first place in chemistry, he was excited but, “…couldn’t let myself get too ecstatic,” because the next round of judging was the next day. After the second round he received a call from a NEOSEF director, telling him that he won a Grand Prize and was going to the Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF). He spent over 75+ hours on his project and, “…getting this amazing honor and opportunity.

As science teachers, Mrs. Ledman and Mrs. Gregory are justifiably proud of Ryan’s success. Mrs. Gregory said, “Ryan is incredibly curious. He starts thinking of next year’s STEM Fair project as soon as he finishes the current one. Ryan thinks deeply about how materials interact and comes up with creative interpretations of phenomena that lead to new and exciting applications. We are so proud of Ryan for all of the hard work, time & effort that he has put into his projects. He always wants to make them the best that they can be. He has developed strong laboratory skills in both biology and chemistry and is now incorporating physics principles into his current project. He is definitely on the right path to his career goals in material science.”

Congratulations, Ryan! This is an amazing accomplishment and you have done yourself and West Geauga proud.