Put-in-Bay student’s frustration with algae blooms earns recognition at science fair

Mar 19, 2024 | Schools | 0 comments

Caleb Kowalski plants seeds for the project he entered in the Northwest Ohio Science and Engineering Fair. (Submitted photo)

BY SHERI TRUSTY

Growing up on a Lake Erie island has the unique benefit of having a 10,000-square-mile swimming hole right outside your front door. Swimming is one of Caleb Kowalski’s favorite summer activities, so it is always frustrating when algae blooms force his feet to stay in the sand.

When Caleb, a Put-in-Bay Middle School seventh grader, needed a topic for a science fair project, he chose to investigate solutions to the algae bloom problem that affects the health of the lake, not to mention his summer fun. His science fair project earned a superior rating at the local level, earning him a spot at the Northwest Ohio Science and Engineering Fair (NWOSEF) on Feb. 24. Caleb was among seven of 42 junior high students at NWOSEF whose projects were chosen for super judging.

Caleb Kowalski entered a project on crop covers at the Northwest Ohio Science and Engineering Fair. (Submitted photo)

“If you were chosen for super judging, you got to do a slide show and a five-minute presentation, and then the judges asked you questions for three minutes,” Caleb said.

Caleb placed first among the competitors in grades five through eight. Now, he may have the chance to compete at the national level in Washington, D.C. this fall. His mother and Put-in-Bay Middle School science teacher, Melissa Kowalski, said Caleb will work through a multi-step process, which includes a live interview, to try to earn a spot at nationals.

“He already applied,” Melissa said. “The top 30 in the country will compete in Washington, D.C. in October. He’ll find out in May if he placed.”

Caleb’s algae bloom project, “The Effects of Cover Crop Type on the Nutrient Load of Runoff,” studied scientific efforts to keep harmful nutrients out of Lake Erie. He grew small-batch cover crops from seed and tested them with fertilizer to determine which crop best filtered nitrates and phosphates. His control group included soil only, grass, clover and mixed cover.

Put-in-Bay Middle School science teacher, Melissa Kowalski, is proud of her son, Caleb, who may earn a spot at the national level NOSEF competition. (Submitted photo)

“I put quite a bit of time into it. I had to grow the plants, and testing the plants took quite a while,” he said. “I made fertilizer so I could see if I could simulate runoff.”

Prior to the testing, Caleb hypothesized that grass would best filter the nutrients.

“I was actually correct on that, but I was surprised to learn that clover actually increased the nutrients in the soil,” he said.

Caleb’s crop cover project gave him the opportunity to research a topic that has a personal and community impact and that supplemented lessons he was learning in the classroom. Caleb hopes to one day turn his love of discovery and the outdoors into a career as a surveyor.

“I’m thinking about being a surveyor. I love being outside, and I love doing puzzles,” he said. “Trying to find old landmarks is kind of like doing a puzzle.”

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