Connor Driscall describes himself as more of a chemistry kind of guy.
So it came as something of a surprise to the 15-year-old high school freshman when his physics experiment won first place at the Appoquinimink School District Science Fair on May 3.
“I was actually sweating a little bit when I showed it to the first couple of judges,” he said. “The only reason I can think that it won was because my display was kind of professional looking. Or maybe it was because I’m so tall and the judges thought I was a senior.”
Sandra Smithers, the school district’s science specialist, said she thinks there are other reasons the team of 17 judges were impressed by Driscall’s examination of how laser communication is impacted by atmospheric conditions.
“It think it had more to do with the quality of his research, his interviews with the judges and the fact that his project was not something that you could just find on the internet and easily replicate,” she said.
To create his project, Connor built a small laser transmitter capable of sending an 800-hertz test tone from an iPod through its concentrated beam of light to a receiver where the sound could be picked up by a speaker.
He then placed various paper slides in the lasers path to mimic the effects of different atmospheric conditions and measured the resulting signal in decibels to gauge its amplitude.
“At first, I thought about using a fog machine to simulate various types of clouds, but after I filled my mom’s kitchen with fog I knew that wasn’t going to work,” he said. “She’s wasn’t too happy about it, either.”
Driscall, who would like to one day study computer engineering, said researching his project taught him a lot about laser communication, as well as atmospheric communications.
“For instance, I found out that distance has a minimal effect on signal strength, but I also learned there is no solution for getting around the impact the atmosphere has on laser communications,” he said. “You can’t defeat Mother Nature.”
Driscall said his project was inspired by a recent lesson on electromagnetic wavelengths in Edwina Jenkins’ Physical and Earth Science class at Appoquinimink High School.
Smithers said that’s becoming something of a trend at the district science fair.
“This is the second year we’ve had the fair, the second year a ninth grader won and the second year that ninth grader came from Mrs. Jenkins class,” she said.
Page 2 of 2 - Jenkins, however, said Connor deserves all the credit for his project, which earned him the iPad awarded as the science fair’s grand prize.
“He’s an excellent student, an independent thinker, a self-starter and has one of the highest grades in my class,” she said. “If I had any role, it’s just helping these kids get where they need to be so they can accomplish something that’s theirs for the taking. I’m just happy he was encouraged to take the time to do a good job, because he deserves it.”