Billings Science Expo and Montana Science Fair

The Billings Science Expo and the Montana Science Fair in Missoula awarded a Grand Award to Isaac Rost.

By Linda Rost

The Billings Science Expo and the Montana Science Fair in Missoula awarded a Grand Award to Isaac Rost (son of Roy and Melissa Rost), qualifying him to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). He traveled to Los Angeles, Calif., along with teacher Mrs. Linda Rost and her husband Jay Rost from May 14-19, 2017. Roy Rost also joined them on Thursday and Friday during the open house and awards assemblies. Isaac Rost is the second Baker Spartan to compete at this fair; Lauren Wang competed in 2015. All travel expenses were paid for by the Billings Science Expo. This fair is the premier pre-college science competition in the world, and this year about 1,800 students from 78 countries, regions and territories gathered to present their novel research and inventions and compete for more than $4 million in prizes.

Rost competed with his project entitled “Analysis of Photocatalytic Performance in TiO2 Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells Doped with Nanostructure Diatoms”. In his research, he built 120 organic solar cells, from titanium dioxide sintered on to glass electrodes, and dyed them with anthocyanin pigments. His experimental cells were doped with different concentrations of fossilized diatoms, which are microscope, photosynthetic, single-celled organisms that have a silicon-based structure. The solar cells that were doped with a 25% solution of diatoms had 91% higher power output compare to the control group, probably due to an increase in surface area from the nanostructure pores in the diatoms. Essentially, the efficiency of the cells was almost doubled.

After setting up his project among the other 1,800 top high school science researchers in the world on Monday, we visited Hollywood, including the Guinness World Records Museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium and the Hollywood Wax Museum. On Tuesday, they attended a panel of Nobel laureates that were invited to speak with students and answer questions. Wednesday was judging and Rost had a total of eleven judges from all over the country. The judges were most impressed that he was able to do this level of research independently in a public high school classroom, while many of his peers worked at sophisticated research institutions with scientists and attended prestigious prep schools. They were excited to hear that he is pursuing a degree in Chemical Engineering from Bozeman.

Following judging, finalists and chaperones were bused to Universal Studios, which was closed to the public, and reserved only for ISEF participants, at the expense of the fair. We enjoyed free food from the Three Broomsticks Harry Potter restaurant and other venues, and then went on as many rides as possible with no wait times. We decided it was the only way to do Universal.

The top award, called the Gordon E. Moore Award of $75,000 went to Ivo Zell of Germany, who designed and created a working prototype of an airplane flying wing with a bell-shaped lift profile, which improves stability and increases fuel efficiency. One of the two Intel Foundation Young Scientists awards of $50,000 went to Amber Yang of Florida, who designed a method to locate space debris that exists in low Earth orbits, which pose safety risks to aircrafts. The second award went to Valerio Pagliarino of Italy, who produced a working prototype of a novel wireless, high-speed network that is laser-based. This network could be used in rural areas and he built his prototype from basic components. The Grand Prize award in Rost’s Energy: Chemical category was Kendra Zhang from New York, who designed a paper test strip that can test glucose levels in saliva.

Competing at Intel ISEF is one of the top honors that a high school science student can achieve, and the title of ISEF finalist is very coveted among the millions of students who compete around the world to make it to ISEF.