Roger Luken took first place in 1959 with a cyclotron.
Well, how fast was he going? Is that some kind of bicycle race?
No, Luken had built a device that could spin sub-atomic particles at great speed. The first place prize was at the Wilmington High School Science Fair.
The cyclotron was invented in 1929 by Ernest O. Lawrence, who was awarded a Nobel prize in 1939. Luken read about it in an encyclopedia and built one in his basement. He spent $1.49 for the parts.
The WHS Science Fair began in 1957, run by the WHS Science Club, under the direction of science teachers, primarily Edward Sullivan. A state science fair program began in 1950.
Roger Luken was president of the Science Club in 1957. There is no record found of the science fair winners, although he is mentioned in the yearbook as having built a radio telescope.
In 1958, Ed Curtis took first place in the science fair with a project on solar evaporation.
Enthusiasm for the science fair grew, and it soon filled the high school gymnasium. Entries covered a great number of scientific topics. The 1959 top entries were an analysis of earth life on Mars by Alan Ford; sulfer from sea water by Warren Layne and the heart of an atomic submarine by John Tobey; a Wilson cloud chamber for detecting radiation by George Lafionatis.
George’s father, Tom, the town civil defense director, was quite concerned with radiation.
Some exhibits were flashy, others merely presented data. In 1960, Peter Neilson studied the effect of excess gravity on plant growth. He built a small greenhouse and set up a large plywood wheel. He attached cans of soil to the wheel and set it spinning. Other cans were on the ground nearby for comparison.
It was quite a sight in his grandfather’s yard, but was too large to take to the science fair. So there was no spinning object to grab attention. The presentation had the data on plant growth and photographs of the greenhouse. He took second place and was also awarded a Westinghouse science award, one of 19 in the state.
John Tobey placed first in 1960 with a device to extract heat from sunlight. Roger Luken was third with a radio telescope and Nancy Allen was fourth with a project on chickens.
Chickens were a popular subject among exhibitors. Wendy Evans had an inside track, entering chicken projects twice. Her family owned a large chicken farm on Ballardvale Street.
The judging of exhibits was done by people working in academia or in nearby companies involved with scientific research. Wilmington’s newest and largest industry, Avco, was a great source for qualified judges.
The 1967 Science Fair could be called Krey Day. The top three exhibits were by members of the Krey family. Philip took first place with desalinization of ocean and brackish water. Shem had an exhibit on air pollution and Andrew’s project was the human brain. Fourth place went to Wayne Aruda with a study of the optics of telescope making. Tom Silvers had an attention-grabbing project on medium-velocity ballistics. He would periodically fire a pistol into a three-foot sand trap, backed up by several gymnasium mats against the wall.
The science fair had a 14-year run in Wilmington, ending in 1970. No particular reason has been named for its demise.
Student fairs continue in lower grade levels, and science projects are included with other subjects.