The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


April 8, 2013

Superb studies: Two Seneca students headed to science "Super Bowl" in Arizona

SENECA, Mo. — Armed with detailed projects on the cutting edges of science, two Seneca High School students will display months of research at the "Super Bowl" of science competitions in Arizona next month. Freshman Christian Smith and junior Bryant Heckart will spend a week in Phoenix during the second week of May representing Southwest Missouri at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest international pre-college science competition. In all, there will be 1,500 high school students from 70 countries, regions and territories.

Fractal finish

Fifteen-year-old Smith is the school district's first-ever freshman to compete at the annual Intel competition, having won late last month in the "computer science/engineering/mathematics" category at regionals on the Missouri Southern State University campus.

Smith's project has to do with "fractals and space-floating curves," a subject he admits can cause some people's eyes to glaze over.

"What I wanted to see was if a space-filling curve could be produced by a fractal that expanded both inward and outward," Smith said.

Using both geometry and algebra, he was able to do just that, as his colorful board demonstrated. He grinned while explaining it, about the self-similar shapes, of detailed patterns repeating themselves, and of French/American mathematician Benoit B. Mandelbrot. All important stuff, he stressed.

He quipped that he had to "brighten up his board" because not a whole lot of people find mathematics interesting.

"It took me a long time (to understand it all) simply because it was hard to comprehend and even understand what I was doing," Smith said. "I won't say I know everything about it because I don't. I'm still learning. But I do plan on continuing the project next year and to learn more about it and presenting my findings."

He got the idea from Missouri Southern mathematics professor Grant Lathrom, who taught him everything he knows about fractals, he said.

"And I was really, really interested in it, because I love learning," he said. "So this was actually a great project for me simply because I knew nothing about (the subject) prior."

Smith said he was shocked when he won.

"I didn't think my project was all that good but I guess everybody thinks it is," he said with a chuckle. "I was very surprised that I got first place in my category and that I won the grand prize. It was all very, very unbelievable to me. But incredible. I felt like jumping around."

Smith hopes to become either a theoretical physicist or an astrophysicist.

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