Spears attends ISEF

TORRINGTON — Sierra Spears, a Lingle-Fort Laramie High School Junior, recently returned from Los Angeles, Calif., where she competed, along with three other Wyoming high school students, in the 2017 International Science and Engineering Fair. Spears is only the second Goshen County student to compete at the ISEF, which hosted more than 1,700 competitors, and their projects, from 78 countries.
Spears was chosen to compete at this year’s ISEF because of her strong showing at the Wyoming State Science Fair earlier in the year. Her project, “Determination of Soil VOC Content Due to Coal Dust Deposition along Major Railroad Transportation Routes,” attempted to measure and test the amount of “volatile organic compounds” (coal dust) along the rail lines in Goshen County.
“I was looking to see how much coal dust was coming off trains,” Spears explained. “The dust releases gas into the atmosphere and that is not good for the ecosystem.
“I needed to do a lot more testing, but you can see there is a lot of coal (dust) coming off of trains. And you would expect that the closer to the Powder River Basin the trains are, the more dust that is being deposited.”
Spears said she got interested in this particular project because Wyoming coal trains are barred from entering Oregon due to the coal dust and she would like to help develop a solution to
that issue.
“They do put a sealant over the coal, but it is like water and it evaporates,” she said. “But an actual cover could be developed that reduces the amount of dust that leaves the cars.”
At ISEF, Spears had the opportunity to meet and interact with students from all over the world and what impressed her the most was the diversity of
the experience.
“There was so much diversity that you wouldn’t see in Wyoming. Here you see a lot of agricultural projects but people from other parts of the world have other interests that we might not
even consider.
“One project that caught my eye was the one the girl across from me did. It was a six-year study on a bacteria that I’ve never even heard of. She took fourth place in the winners
Although Spears didn’t take home any awards from ISEF, the experience was valuable and she looks forward to going back
next year.
“ISEF taught me that if you really want to go for something, you should take your time and really do it well.”
She isn’t sure what she will do as her project next year, though she has the option of continuing her coal dust study.
“I definitely want to do it again. This time with the goal of placing in the competition.”
But for Spears, the ISEF was just the beginning of her scientific summer journey. She will be traveling to Oswego, N.Y., on June 13 to compete in the GENIUS Olympiad, another international competition that brings together more than 1,100 students from 71 countries to compete in five different disciplines, science, visual and performing arts, business, writing
and robotics.
“The GENIUS Olympiad is very different from the ISEF,” Spears explained. “It will include artists and writers, a whole different group than what was at ISEF. I am very excited to
be going.”
When she gets back from New York, Spears will spend six weeks as part of the summer research apprentice program at the University of Wyoming and then will volunteer as a ZOOfari participant at the Riverside Discovery Center and Zoo in Scottsbluff, Neb.


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