Low-cost home security a winner at science fair

125 students compete for top prizes

Fabian O’Connor, 16, demonstrates how his low-cost security alarm system works. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Cayman students took a decidedly practical approach to their experiments Saturday at Rotary Central’s 12th annual science fair.

Here’s a sampling of the first-place winners: “How to get water from soil to assist the future of the natural world” by First Baptist Christian School’s Finlay Dacker; “The effects of dog therapy on anxious executives lower heart rates and stress levels” by Anna Taylor-Payne; “Soaps and hand sanitizers – Do they work?” by Cayman Prep’s Audrey Keeble; and “Homemade security alarm system” by Clifton Hunter High School’s Fabian O’Connor.

This is science you can use.

Fabian, 16, who won first place in the Physics, Chemistry and Computer Science category during Saturday’s competition, said he had a very personal reason for inventing an affordable home protection system.

“When I was younger, my house was broken into and it really affected me as a young child,” he said. “My parents couldn’t afford commercial security systems so I came up with my own idea.” The Clifton Hunter head boy showed onlookers how his system works by using a detached window he brought along. When a participant raised the window up to a certain height, a wire attached set off a buzzer to alert those inside that the window had been opened.

“There’s no wire on the outside, everything is inside,” Mr. O’Connor said. “[The burglary suspect] wouldn’t be able to find the switch.”

The entire system can be purchased for between $7 to $12 and just needs a few buzzers, two AA batteries and a clothes pin, which acts as an insulator for the switch that activates the buzzer.

Fabian, the son of Cayman’s “dancing policeman” Constable Fabian O’Connor, said he’s not ready to put the homemade alarm on the market just yet, he’s still working with it. However, the project did get kudos from Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly Saturday.

“It would be affordable, accessible and it would be a Cayman product,” Ms. O’Connor-Connolly said. “All the things that make a minister happy.”

Ms. O’Connor-Connolly – who was not a judge in the competition – said she was impressed by a number of projects at the science fair Saturday, singling out a few, including one on water absorption in plants done by 8-year-old Harshita Yedla of Cayman Prep.

“I was a little bit curious about how plants got water from the ground,” Harshita said, when asked about her project.

The experiment used food coloring on celery stalks to show how plants absorbed water when they were left overnight in jars. “You can see that your leaves turn blue or red … when you crack it open you can see tiny tube-like structures which are the xylem vessels,” she said.

When this reporter admitted he was not familiar with the term “xylem vessels,” Harshita explained, “They’re dead cells which help in transporting water to the tips of the stalk.”

Cayman’s water

A significant number of projects presented at the fair focused on Cayman’s ocean waters, including one experiment that attempted to support the sometimes-posited theory that liquid nitrogen could be used to weaken hurricanes.

Another project researched the turbidity (clarity) and acidity of seawater at various locations, looking at Seven Mile Beach, Spotts Beach and Frank Sound. The project team also looked at how much microscopic life was in the water at those locations.

“It’s just proving that humans are affecting the ocean and if we don’t do anything about it, the ocean might soon become too acidic for any sort of marine life to live in it,” said Liam Walton, who worked on the project with science partner Rene Ortega, both students from St. Ignatius Catholic School.

A total of 16 projects took home first, second or third place prizes in five separate categories from Rotary following the daytime presentation at Camana Bay’s Arts and Recreation Centre. There was one second-place tie in the Physics, Chemistry and Computer Science category.

Strong turnout

Rotary Central’s Leyla Jackson said this was the second-busiest science fair the group has hosted since it began 12 years ago. Only the 2015 science fair had more entries.

This year’s fair was named in honor of the late Dr. Bill Hrudey, former observatory director at the University College of the Cayman Islands.

The fair had a total of 84 projects from 12 schools and a number of homeschools, involving 125 students (many worked together in teams on their projects). There was no differentiation between public and private schools, and many of the projects were already selected to participate in the islandwide fair from within their own schools.

A panel of 19 judges began touring the various projects – which filled the entire floor of the ARC – at about 8 a.m. Saturday, scoring each according to pre-established criteria. The winners were announced in a ceremony Saturday evening.