Three Young Scientists Present Their Research

Los Alamos High School freshman Alex Ionkov with his poster at the science fair. Photo by Don Casperson
By Charmian Schaller
Los Alamos Kiwanis

Members of the Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos got an opportunity to experience some of the excitement of the annual Science Fair April 21 when three Los Alamos High School (LAHS) scientists presented their work during the club’s noon meeting.

The three young scientists—Elise Koskelo, Colin Hehlen and Alex Ionkov—each spoke for five minutes, then stood by their complex and interesting posters so that club members could ask questions. Koskelo, a junior, was chosen by the LAHS judges this year as first in the Senior Division at the local Science Fair. Hehlen and Ionkov, both freshmen, were chosen by the Kiwanis Science Fair Committee (headed by Roger Stutz) to receive Kiwanis first-place awards in the Senior Division.

Koskelo topped her outstanding LAHS Science Fair performance with a first in engineering at the State Science Fair this year. It was her third trip to State. She also won a first there when she was in the sixth grade and another when she was in the eighth grade. She is thinking of attending college in California when she graduates next year and majoring in engineering. Her interests are wide-ranging. She is the current vice president of Key Club; she  runs cross country; and she is involved in French (Level 5). She was accompanied at Kiwanis by her parents—her mother, Jean Robinson, who works in Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and her father, Aaron Koskelo, a chemist in X Division at LANL.

Hehlen, son of Markus and Bettina Hehlen, is interested in pursuing studies in computer science and engineering. He said he has been involved in Science Fair projects “since the fourth or fifth grade.” His mother, a local artist, accompanied him at Kiwanis.

Ionkov’s family was originally from Bulgaria, but they are United States citizens now. Alex said he has been doing science “ever since first grade.” His parents are Lucho Ionkov, a computer scientist at LANL, and Sevi Ionkov, who is studying to become a pharmacist. His father joined him at the meeting.

The projects that the three presented were widely varied. Following are brief summaries of their work.

  • Koskelo is interested in finding new solutions for use in developing earthquake-resistant engineering. She noted that worldwide, about 10,000 people a year die in earthquakes. She decided it would be interesting to study what kinds of trees survive earthquakes and why. She began with a literature search, and, based on what she learned, chose to study three kinds of trees that are known to survive quakes: cypress, redwood, and scots pine. She then tested 3-D models of these three kinds of trees on a “shaker table,” and analyzed their reactions. Her conclusion was that the California redwood was the most likely to survive because of its height, its width, and its drooping limbs.
  • Hehlen—who, like his father, is a ham radio operator—knew that people in the search and rescue community in New Mexico are using hand-held radios in an effort to communicate during emergencies, but that mountains often interfere. Repeaters help, but, nevertheless, there are still dead areas. He set out to develop a small, light, convenient device that would rebroadcast signals from these radio-dead areas. He created an ultra-light box that is approximately 8x8x4 inches in size and has a removable antenna. It fits into a backpack and can be set up easily in an appropriate location. He tried communicating from the Pajarito Ski Hill and found that his device could establish communication with sites in town when it was set up at the Ice Rink.
  • Ionkov, who is very interested in human-computer interaction, determined that although blind people can read by using Braille, it is very expensive to convert new books and manuals into Braille. He set out to find an inexpensive way to bridge the gap. He researched what had been done so far and found it impractical. What he needed, he felt, was a way to move the “pins” that create Braille characters. He settled on “memory wire.”  He explained, “You run a current through it, and it shrinks,” and it can, therefore, be used to pull down a pin, creating the appropriate configuration for a Braille character. His first prototype didn’t work because the memory wire was too thin, but when he replaced it with thicker wire, it did work. He feels that he has made a start that he can build on.

Although the three young scientists are working on very different projects, they have at least two important things in common. All three hope to make a bad situation better for mankind, and all three plan to continue working on their projects, improving them in the years to come.

Judges chose Los Alamos High School junior Elise Koskelo as this year first place winner in the Senior Division at the local Science Fair. Photo by Don Casperson

Los Alamos High School freshman Colin Hehlen with his poster at the science fair. Colin Hehlen Photo by Don Casperson

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