Science Fair victor enlists Haleakala scope for project

His science project looked at time dilation and Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as they relate to quasars – pretty heady stuff from the winner of the Maui science fair this year.

Steven Okada, a senior at Maui High School, did his project on “Spectral Analysis of Quasar Time Dilation,” capturing the top prize at Thursday’s 54th annual Maui Schools’ Science and Engineering Fair and a trip to the Intel International Science Fair in Phoenix from May 12 to 17.

Pausing to dummy down his project for regular folks, Okada explained that his project looked “for the effects of time dilation in galaxies that are very far away . . . the stretching out of time for objects moving relative to us.”

He was reading a study by astronomer Mike Hawkins (not theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, as appeared in a caption in Friday’s edition) from the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, Scotland, that there was no time dilation for light pulses from quasars even though they are expected to show the phenomenon because they are moving away from the Earth so quickly.

Time for a lesson on time dilation and quasars.

Time dilation is a component of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. According to the PBS Nova website on the program “Einstein’s Big Idea”:

“His idea was that, theoretically, the closer we come to traveling at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), the more time would appear to slow down for us from the perspective of someone who, in relation to us, was not moving. He called the slowing of time due to motion ‘time dilation.’ “

To illustrate the concept, the website suggested imagining a person standing on Earth holding a clock and another person with a clock in a rocket zooming past at nearly 186,000 miles per second. If the person on Earth were able to view the clock in the rocket ship, he would notice that it would appear to be moving a lot more slowly than the one on Earth. The person in the rocket would think the clock in the rocket is moving just fine while the clock on the ground would seem to be moving very fast.

Quasars are “the most luminous, powerful and energetic objects known of at this time,” according to the Universe Today website. “They seem to inhabit the centers of active young galaxies and can emit up to a thousand times the energy output of our entire galaxy.”

Quasars are believed to be powered by the buildup of material into “centralized super-massive black holes,” the website said. Light cannot escape these black holes; the escaping energy and light visible is generated by gravitational stresses and intense friction outside of the black holes.

Working with James “J.D.” Armstrong, Maui technology education and outreach specialist for the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, Okada studied quasars, using the 2-meter Faulkes Telescope atop Haleakala.

He looked at light coming from quasars and variations in the brightness.

At the end of his research for the project, Okada said: “There is no definite answer (though) we’ve kinda found a reason.”

He said that the power spectrum looks different between wavelengths in quasars. A power spectrum can tell something about the behavior of a signal at every moment in time.

“I’m hoping that this is pointing us in the right direction,” he said.

Okada, who has the University of California-Berkeley as his main college option, was heading out Friday to preparations for the Hawaii Science Bowl, to be held today at Honolulu Community College.

Also attending the Intel science fair will be the second-place qualifier, Sarah Jenkins, a Molokai High School 10th-grader. Her project was “Artificial Nesting Structures For Hawaiian Coot Nesting Success.”

The Hawaii Academy of Sciences will help defray some of their transportation expenses.

Jenkins and Okada also will be attending the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair from April 7 to 9 at the Hawaii Convention Center on Oahu.

Theirs were among 10 projects selected. The other merit winners, their grades, schools and project titles follow:

* Xrystina Bicoy and Shella Keahi, 11, Molokai High, “Turning Erosion Into Accretion.”

* Riley Camp and Bryson Galapon, 11, Maui High, “Analyzing the Correlation Between Solar Activity and Global Temperature.”

* Christopher Kim, 10, Maui High, “Spectral and Period Variation in Cataclysmic Variable System FO Aquarii.”

* Matthew Sturm, 10, Baldwin High, “Frictionless Floating Train: Part III.”

* Jared Gaastra and Kyle Shultz, 8, Lahaina Intermediate, “Waste To Energy.”

* Lily Jenkins, 8, Molokai Middle, “Effects of Non-Native Water Lettuce in Canal at Puko’o Pond.”

* Celeste Jongeneelen, 7, home school, “Disk-O-Stars.”

* Chayse Tamaki, 8, Iao Intermediate, “Dose-Response Testing of Marine Algae with Antibacterial Properties.” Tamaki’s project was selected the top intermediate project in the Maui science fair. This was his second year winning the honor.

There were 87 junior and senior division projects from Iao, Kalama and Lahaina intermediate; Molokai Middle; Doris Todd Memorial Christian School; Baldwin, King Kekaulike, Maui and Molokai high schools; and Seabury Hall. There were two home-schooled students as well.

Judges for the Maui science fair recognized four Maui teachers for their outstanding efforts to support students in science, engineering and technology. This year’s winners were Jennifer Ainoa and Scott Hemenway from Molokai Middle and Lee DeRouin and Malia Lee from Molokai High.

The honorable mention winners, grades, schools and project titles follow:

* Momi Afelin, 9, Molokai High, “It’s Electric.”

* Edel Mae Alvarez, 10, Remelie Manuel, 11, MayRose Ragonton, 12, Molokai High, “Okra Mucilage in Handmade Paper.”

* Karina Bhattacharya, 9, Baldwin High, “Survival of the Species.”

* Lihau Collier, 10, King Kekaulike, “Caught Under Pressure.”

* Kea’a Davis, 9, Molokai High, “Relationships Between Personality Type and Learning Type.”

* Sarah Eger, 10, Seabury Hall, “Observing the Growth of Motipora Corals Under Different Types of Lighting.”

* Kamran Bhattacharya, 7, Doris Todd, “Can You Hear This?”

* Noah Keanini, 7, Molokai Middle, “The Antenna Test: A Test to Find the Best T.V. Antenna.”

* Jacob Kuiper, 8, Lahaina Intermediate, “How Can Different Kinds of Fluids Affect the Electrical Capacity of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell?”

* Luka Masuda, 8, Iao Intermediate, “Global Clusters: To the Galaxies and Beyond!”

* Eric Svetin, 8, Molokai Middle, “Additional Stitch Effect on a Baseball.”

* Caitlin Villarosa, 7, Iao Intermediate, “Solar Energy Battery Efficiency.”

* Rowen Yoshida, 7, Iao Intermediate, “Which Fishing Knot is the Strongest.”

Specialized Awards presented were:

* Monsanto Hawaii Award, Edel Mae Alvarez, Remelie Manuel, May Rose Ranontan, Molokai High.

* Maui Electric Co., Kiley Kochi, Doris Todd Memorial Christian; Jared Gaastra and Kyle Schultz, Lahaina Intermediate.

* American Meteorological Society, Sarah Eger, Seabury Hall.

* American Psychological Association, Kea’a Davis, Molokai High.

* Association for Women Geoscientist, Xrystina Bicoy and Shell Keahi, Molokai High.

* Intel Excellence in Computer Science Award, Steven Okada, Maui High.

* Mu Alpha Theta, Christopher Kim, Maui High.

* NOAA, Riley Camp and Bryson Galapon, Maui High.

* Ricoh, Matthew Sturm, Baldwin High.

* National Society of Professional Engineers, Matthew Sturm, Baldwin High.

* U.S. Metric Association, Devynn Leigh Kochi, King Kekaulike.

* U.S. Public Health Service, Chayse Tamaki, Iao Intermediate.

* Yale Science & Engineering Association, Caulin Angelesa, Paul Parker, Molokai High.

* Air Force, Steven Okada, Maui High; Sarah Jenkins, Molokai High; Matthew Sturm, Baldwin High; Chayse Tamaki, Iao Intermediate.

* Lee Imada can be reached at