D.C. Bar Brings Full Support to 2019 Banneker Science Fair

By John Murph

February 25, 2019

On February 15 the D.C. Bar Communities were once again a proud sponsor of the Benjamin Banneker Academic High School’s annual science fair, with many Bar members also showing their support by serving as volunteer judges. The Bar’s Communities have been sponsoring the event since 1996.

This year’s top prize went to sophomore Brandon Clarke for his chemistry project, “Flashlight Without Batteries.” Clarke’s winning entry featured a flashlight that turns on in response to a temperature change detected by specific tiling. That manipulation can happen just by holding the flashlight.

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Kevin Nguyen, one of the science fair judges, was won over by Clarke’s project because it involved a lot of “abstract thought.” “I don’t know if I’d ever seen that. [His] prototype was impressive; the rationale was impressive,” said Nguyen.

“Electricity isn’t always dependable in some parts of the world,” Nguyen continued. “Even in America we have blackouts during storms and natural disasters. Batteries and chemicals can also pollute [the environment] if not disposed of properly. Things that are powered by electricity are just so useful in modern-day society that any sort of new technology or new application of old technology could lead to new products.”

This year’s fair awarded 47 prizes across the categories of chemistry, biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, behavioral and social sciences, animal sciences, environmental sciences, earth and planetary sciences, plant sciences, medical and health sciences, microbiology, mathematical sciences, computer sciences, physics, astronomy, and engineering.

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Other winners include Sharon Joseph’s engineering project, “Riding on Air,” which earned second prize, and Chidera Onyeka’s entry, “How Does Plant Type Affect Photosynthetic Rate?” which won third prize.

Banneker science teacher Mandi Nguyen, who coordinates the science fair, said the event gives students “a chance to design their own experiment and go through the entire research process.” “They always appreciate the day in which they get to present [their projects] to scientists, lawyers, and other people within the STEM community,” she said. “A lot of the students end up taking the law class during their senior year. They then get to do mock trials. That really helps fuel their college and after-college plans.”  

In October 2018, the D.C. Bar Communities presented Banneker High School a $2,500 check for its annual Science Fair Partners Assembly award ceremony.  

“To do something like this, we need community support,” said Anita M. Berger, the magnet school’s principal. “We have members from the D.C. Bar here; we have members from the alumni association; we have other community members here, like parents. The D.C. Bar supports us not just financially — students get to see people from the Bar in action. When you think about the D.C. Bar, you think about law. You don’t associate it with science. We want students to really understand the impact of what community organizations such as the D.C. Bar do.”

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Darrin Sobin, D.C. Bar chief programs officer who also served as one of the judges at the science fair, said the Bar is proud to be part of the largest science fair in the city, which drew more than 350 participants this year. “[This is] three times the size of the citywide science fair,” Sobin said. 

Last October, Rae Fischer, a steering committee co-chair of the D.C. Bar’s Intellectual Property Law Community, spoke about the intersections between science and various legal practices. Berger expressed a desire for more conversations to happen at the school about the legal field’s interactions with science.

“I think we need to do a better job at teaching our science students about intellectual property and other parts of the law that involve science,” Berger said. “Sometimes we don’t know what the students don’t know. There are a lot of assumptions about students knowing certain things. But we do need to give students more exposure to things such as how laws impact science and vice versa.”

Banneker High School ranks second in Washington, D.C., and number 344 in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report, which also awarded the school with a gold medal. The school has a 100 percent college acceptance rate.