Three Oak Hills students place in county STEM expo, advance to state

Science fair winners hold their trophies, from, left, Alexander Eitel, Govind Sudan and Justin Luo at Oak Hills Elementary School in Stevenson Ranch on Thursday, 051321. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Three sixth-grade students from Oak Hills Elementary School placed in the Los Angeles County science fair, allowing two of them to advance to the state-level competition. 

The three students demonstrated their projects in science and innovative categories at the Oak Hills STEM Expo, which earned them a trophy and a spot in the county’s 71st annual science fair, where they each took home awards before two students advanced to the state competition. 

“It was a cool experience to compete,” said sixth grader Govind Sudan, one of the three students. “A lot of people didn’t like the online part of it, but I thought it was way more fun and gave me more time to practice.” 

Competitions were held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, but each student said that didn’t stop them from bringing their best to the competition. 

Projects in the science fair were broken up into two categories, science and innovation, where each student spent months researching, collecting data and presenting their project based on the respective category. 

Sixth-grade student Alexander Eitel’s project was based on magnetic forces to prevent elevator malfunctions and crashes, which he said stems from a family member’s hesitancy of elevators. Aptly called “May the Force Be With You – Improving Elevator Safety,” Eitel collected elevator malfunction data and designed a way to place magnets at the bottom of an elevator, and again at the end of an elevator shaft, which would allow them to bounce off one another and prevent any crashes. 

“It sort of felt like a dream to be in the competition,” said Eitel. “I couldn’t have done it without help.” 

Eitel’s project won him first place in the engineering research project subcategory, as well as the James E. Roberts Award of Excellence from the Professional Engineers in California Government association in the L.A. County science fair. 

Sixth-grade student Justin Luo’s project, named “Unknown Eyes,” earned him a recognition medal in the behavioral/social sciences-human subcategory and focused on how factors such as age, gender and eyesight affect a person’s ability to perceive optical illusions. 

“I was thinking about how lucky I felt to win,” said Luo. “I was nervous but I’m proud of myself.” 

Luo added he thought of this idea for his project since he’s always been interested in magic and how he’s perceived optical illusions. 

Sudan’s project focused on creating a prototype design of a device which could assist individuals who are hearing impaired. For the project, named “Who’s There? Development of a Motion Detection Device,” he engineered a warning system which detects motion and alert individuals with noise or lights. 

Sudan took first place in the Engineering Applications subcategory along with first place in the University of California, Los Angeles Brain Research Institute and third place in the ICP DAS USA, Inc. Southern California Social Impact Award. 

All three students competed against 268 students in the county’s science fair, while Eitel and Sudan competed against more than 800 students on the state level and received recognition awards. 

“They’ve all competed in the science fair since third grade,” said Tonia Symensma-Cohen, Oak Hills’ STEM Expo coordinator. “They voluntarily compete in these things and they always do so well. There’s a lot to be proud of.” 

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