The two, who were at the time in the eighth grade at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill, were having difficulties getting wood to stick and hold together while they were assembling a small bridge for a Science Olympiad club project.
“When we built the bridge, oftentimes it was the glue joints that were failing before the wood would break,” Sara said.
“We needed to find out which glue was best to make the most efficient bridge,” Emily said.
So, the girls decided to do a separate science project – while still working on their bridge project – that focused on testing glues for strength and durability in order to build the lightest and most durable bridge.
Their project, “A Sticky Situation,” took the top prize at the 2015 North Carolina Science & Engineering Fair in the junior physics division and reached the semifinals of the Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) Middle School Science Fair competition.
The project was the most detailed experiment I’ve seen for this level.
Regina Baratta, a science teacher at Smith Middle School and Sara and Emily’s Science Olympiad coach.
The Broadcom MASTERS is a program of Society for Science & the Public. SSP-affiliated science fairs nominate the top 10 percent of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade projects in the country to enter the competition. After submitting the online application, 300 semifinalists are selected, according to its website.
Sara and Emily’s project was one of 300 chosen out of 2,230 applications.
For the “Sticky Situation” project, the girls tested four types of glue: Gorilla, wood, Elmer’s and Super.
They began by gluing two wooden Popsicle sticks together perpendicularly at the centers of both pieces. They drilled small holes in the ends of the sticks and hooked up weights in a bucket to determine the strength of the glue joint.
They were tested at high relative humidity (55 to 70 percent) and normal relative humidity (41 to 52 percent), and at room temperature (21 to 23 degrees C) and cold temperature (8 to 13 degrees C) using normal force. Triplicate tests were conducted for each glue/temperature/humidity combination.
“The project was the most detailed experiment I’ve seen for this level,” said Regina Baratta, a science teacher at Smith Middle School and Sara and Emily’s Science Olympiad coach. “Their work level was college level.”
Baratta said the pair built 25 bridges to test when most other teams built just one.
The girls first met in a seventh grade Latin class in which they had assigned seats.
They both joined Science Olympiad, a national organization that offers competitive tournaments and requires preparation, commitment, coaching and practice throughout the year, according to its website.
Eventually, Emily and Sara paired up for a Science Olympiad project in seventh grade.
“In seventh grade, all of a sudden they just really hit it off,” said Annie Zangi, Sara’s mother. “They recognized that ‘Hey, this is a girl who really pays attention and she works hard.’ And they really clicked. They work really well together.”
Their project was a “boomilever,” a cantilever (a right-triangle attached to a wall with a hook at the top) built with a 30-cm boom which could hold up as much as 15 kg before breaking. It earned first place in the Olympiad’s regional competition. Seventh-graders are considered junior varsity, and are not qualified to compete in the state meet.
So, it was only fitting that they worked on the eighth-grade science projects together.
“They make a great team,” Baratta said. “They are very diligent. They split up the work evenly. They seem to enjoy what they do and have a lot of self-motivation. They are good role models for others.”
A STEM FUTURE
During the first weeks of their freshman year at East Chapel Hill High School, it’s also logical that they agree on the best STEM college for them.
“MIT!” the girls said almost simultaneously.
Their parents, most of whom have STEM professions, have high but realistic hopes for the girls.
“Whatever they want to do they can realize their dreams,” Annie Zangi said.
“They should enjoy what they’re doing and be happy,” said Xiaoyu Liu, Emily’s mother.
Emily credits her parents for her interest in STEM.
“My parents always encouraged me to be curious, and they always share interesting facts and discoveries about science,” Emily said.
About the series
Through Oct. 19, Thumbs Up is highlighting students who excel in STEM activities and education, a curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.
Don’t miss STEMology
The News & Observer and Bayer CropScience are teaming up to bring you STEMology, an event designed to bring together STEM leaders and students. It will feature student demonstrations, interactive displays, a panel discussion and food.
When: Oct. 22, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Where: Raleigh Marriot City Center, 500 Fayetteville St. Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-17, free for ages 5 and under.