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Charlottesville student named a top 300 'junior innovator'

Thousands of science projects were submitted, but only 300 rose to the top of the Society for Science and Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge. And among those 300? Charlottesville student Elizabeth Bruscia.

“I could not believe that email,” Bruscia, a seventh-grader at Charlottesville Catholic School, told The Daily Progress. “I did not realize that was actually happening, because theres like 2,000 projects and I was one of the top 300. It was really, really cool.”

In order to qualify for the national challenge, students must first compete in a local society-affiliated science fair. The top 10% of those students are nominated to apply to the Junior Innovators Challenge. A pool of evaluators, including scientists, engineers and educators recruited from across the country, select the top 300 students from the pool of candidates.

Bruscia said she was required to participate in Charlottesville Catholic’s science fair like any other seventh-grader at the school. What set her apart was her inspiration.

Bruscia is an aspiring equestrian.

“You should always do what you’re passionate about and that will always help, and science can be used in anything,” she said.

Her project, titled “Under Pressure, Improving Equine Health, and Injury Prevention,” came to her after a specific equine encounter.

“One time, I was at a horse show and the pony that I was riding was not smooth, she was more bumpy, and I thought it was because of the footing,” Bruscia said.

So she set about testing the different types of materials used in horse arenas to create a safe, stable terrain for horses to walk and perform on under the same amount of pressure, she said. Her mission: Find what footing was best for a horse’s performance and health.

One of the brands Bruscia tested was TruTex Eclipse. The material was “one of the better ones” because of its “soft” consistency made up of “little fibers.”

“The other one that was the worst had big pieces of cloth and there weren’t a lot of them so it’s mostly like sand,” Bruscia said.

Bruscia said she wants to go to college to explore the veterinary field and learn the biomechanics of horses.

“Then when I get out of college, I would love to be a horse trainer or rider,” she said.

So she was a perfect fit for the Society for Science and Thermo Fisher Scientific STEM competition, which aims to help schoolchildren tackle real-world problems.

While securing first place at Charlottesville Catholic’s science fair was “definitely an accomplishment,” Bruscia said, getting named in the top 300 in the national competition — which comes with a $125 prize among other gifts — is nothing to sniff at.

Now that the top 300 have been named, 30 finalists will be selected and invited to participate in a “Finals Week” competition in Washington, D.C., where the grand prize is $100,000 in awards and prizes.

“The students are assessed on their scientific research projects, and then when they come to Washington, D.C., not only are the judges looking at their overall science research project, but they’re performance and hands on team challenges,” Raeva Ramadorai, Director for the challenge, told The Daily Progress.

The goal of the Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge is to “inspire young scientists, engineers and innovators to solve the world’s most intractable challenges,” according to the organization.

“We hope that students gain an increased confidence in their abilities in STEM, and that they’re encouraged to continue those passions in high school and beyond,” Ramadorai said.

The middle school age is a critical time for students in developing passions, according to Ramadorai. She hopes the competition boosts students’ confidence to help further evolve those passions.

“A lot of students that we see compete at the middle school level come back and we see them at our high school competitions,” Ramadorai said. “It’s really inspiring and encouraging to see that they are actually continuing in their STEM careers, which is great.”

Other science competitions also offered by the Society of Science include the International Science and Engineering Fair and the Science Talent Search, both offered to high school students. The Science Talent Search is the “nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.”

“I think we’re seeing now more than ever that with so many of the world’s problems you need science, technology, engineering and math to solve them, and we’re seeing that come across in a lot of the students’ projects,” Ramadorai said. “These students are looking at things that are affecting them, their personal lives and their communities, and STEM is a way that they can figure out how to better the world for themselves and the future.”


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