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D.C. Bar Champions Students at 2020 Banneker Science Fair

By John Murph

February 24, 2020


On February 14 the D.C. Bar Communities proudly continued their support of the Benjamin Banneker Academic High School’s annual science fair, where several Bar members served as volunteer judges. The Bar’s Communities have been sponsoring the competition since 1996.

Kaosisochukwu Nuel-Ejifor took first prize this year for her computer project “Artificially Intelligent?” “It was something that the judges had not seen before,” said teacher Kia Raye-Jones, the science fair’s coordinator. “I don’t think anyone had adjudicated a project like hers. Her process and presentation really stood out to the judges.”

Brandon Clarke, who won last year’s top prize, placed second with his physics and astronomy project “Perpetual Motion v. the Laws of Physics.” Gabriel Williams placed third for his physics and astronomy entry “Holes in Our Universe.” All three winners will advance to the D.C. Secondary STEM Fair on March 14.

This year’s science fair drew approximately 300 entries, about 50 fewer than last year. But as Raye-Jones explained, that’s because they encouraged more group entries. “We did that because our freshman class is so large,” she said.

In total, the 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.

“I was very impressed with the students, both in the consistency of their knowledge and in their preparation and presentation,” said Wilder Leavitt, a general practice lawyer with a patent background who served as volunteer judge at the science fair. “I was also pretty impressed with the levels of science that they were covering and with the analysis that they had done. A lot of kids followed scientific methods, devised valid experiments, and understood the underpinnings of what makes a good experiment. They could answer questions and present themselves well.”

After the science fair, Leavitt explained the value D.C. Bar members with expertise in intellectual property, patents, copyright/trademarks, and environmental law can bring to the event. “Lawyers can offer a lot more to high school science fairs than you might think,” he said. “When those kids started talking about setting up an experiment, dependent and independent variables, and the number of trials, it went back to basic science education. Anybody who’s in, say, intellectual property law has some exposure to this. And that makes them eminently qualified to interact with these kids, evaluate their experiments, then provide them with guidance. And we can push their thinking in areas that maybe the teachers either didn’t have the time or opportunities to do.”

In October 2019 the D.C. Bar Communities presented Banneker High School a $2,000 check in support of the science fair. Anita Berger, the school’s principal, said that some of the money went toward the projects themselves. “We have some students who can’t really afford a lot of supplies,” she said. “We try to make sure that they have the boards and other supplies they need to generate the visual part of their science fair project. Some of them are even doing long-term projects, which require a lot of testing and extensive research.”

Berger also emphasized the significance of students observing D.C. Bar members give back to their community. “We couldn’t do this without the support of the D.C. Bar,” she said. “The kids really look up to these professionals who dedicate their entire day to talk to us. Sometimes seeing that is more valuable than participating in the science fair.”

According to U.S. News & World Report’s April 2019 ranking, Banneker High School has a 100 percent college acceptance rate and is ranked first within District of Columbia high schools and number 178 nationally.