Frosh Wins County Science Fair with Recycling Exhibit

Genie Lee, Lifestyle Editor

Showing a uniquely enthusiastic aptitude for science, freshman Cathy Kenderski built an award-winning science fair exhibit on the hydrolysis of PET plastic.

Kenderski has been participating in science fairs since she was in the 3rd grade, even though she admits she initially “didn’t do great.” However, at the Contra Costa County Science Engineering Fair (CCCSEF) on March 14-16 at Los Medanos College, she won 1st place.

Kenderski’s friend, freshman April Mao, said she knew about her passion for science from a young age. “She’s always really, really loved science. I’ve noticed that she’s also always done the Contra Costa County fairs and I think it’s really cool that she actually won this time,” she said.

Her experiment sought to solve the detrimental effects of plastic pollution through a liberal application of chemistry. “I used sodium hydroxide to cleave the chemical bonds in PET. It’s basically a method of chemically recycling plastic because the product of the reaction, terephthalic acid, can be used over and over and over again in the creation of new plastic,” said Kenderski.

She came up with the idea because she believes plastic pollution is a major problem. “So I took that and then I did a lot of research into hydrolysis, how to degrade polymers in general, like modifying equations and all that until I came up with my experiment,” said Kenderski.

In addition to presenting her experiment at CCCSEF, Kenderski was interviewed by scientists from the Bay Area. “It was a really fun experience because I got to meet people that were as passionate about science as I am, so that was fun,” she said.

Kenderski started her experiment in early February, utilizing the help of science teacher Roxanne Jackman.

“I was really excited when Cathy came to me this year and said she wanted someone to do it with her. I actually had a little more experience to coach her a little better because I’d gone to it for the last 4 years with my previous student,” said Jackman.

Jackman helped Kenderski with safety precautions, like working in a safe room with a hood and with proper disposal of chemicals.

After the event, both Kenderski and Jackman noticed a lack of support from high schools to encourage students to participate in science fairs. “In high school, hardly any students do it…I was kind of sad that we didn’t foster it more at our school because some schools have a cheering squad and posters during the award ceremonies and my students just had me sitting there clapping,” said Jackman.

However, Kenderski said she appreciated Jackman’s involvement in her experiment. “It was really cool for her to show up and support me. That was really nice of her, especially because at JM, there wasn’t a lot of teacher involvement so that was really nice,” she said.

Kenderski and Jackman are now considering creating a semester class or a club dedicated to giving time and assistance to students interested in participating in future science fair competitions.

“I think that’s really cool because I do think that a lot of girls should be able to do STEM and basically a lot of girls should be supported to do STEM and I think that would help with that,” said Mao.