Ryan De Vroeg’s fascination with military weapons and armor began when he was just a little kid.
He recalls watching the Military History channel when he was quite small, and being drawn to stories about how weapons work and how they’ve evolved.
So, when his Wiregrass Ranch High School teacher encouraged students to do science fair entries based on their interest areas, De Vroeg decided to study the impact force of a composite material, in a quest to design safer armor to protect soldiers and law enforcement personnel.
De Vroeg, whose study involved carbon fiber, said he was inspired by a desire to improve protection for military personnel and law enforcement officers. His entry at the Pasco Regional STEM Fair — which focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — won first place in the engineering category and was named the most outstanding exhibit in materials science by the ASM Materials Education Foundation.
De Vroeg now moves on to compete at the Florida State Science and Engineering Fair slated for April 8-10 at Lakeland Center in Lakeland. He is one of four Wiregrass Ranch High students who advanced beyond the regional fair. Other students with winning entries were Vasili Courialis, Tyler Glantz and John Pease.
Courialis, who now attends Sunlake High, designed an experiment to determine whether or not manipulating the center of gravity in an SUV could reduce the rollover rates of the vehicle. His entry was chosen to be one of two representatives for Pasco County at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May.
Glantz looked at rocket design and which design would decrease fluid drag on a rocket in the atmosphere. Pease measured the impact force of a soccer ball, and looked at ways he could reduce that force to help protect soccer players at all levels.
“This the first time Wiregrass Ranch has sent students to both state competition and international competition as well,” said Branden Anglin, who teaches biology and biology honors, and coordinates the science fair for Wiregrass Ranch. “This is a tremendous achievement, considering that this the first year that Wiregrass Ranch sent a student to regional fair.”
This is also De Vroeg’s first science fair.
“I wasn’t really a fan of science fairs when I was younger because teachers just forced me to do something out of a book,” De Vroeg said. However, he changed his attitude because of Anglin’s approach.
The science fair, Anglin said, is not about a grade.
“All too often, we approach it as a requirement for the science classroom,” he said. “We assign the project, let the kids go, and expect them to come back with a decent project. That leads to students turning to the Internet and giving us canned projects in return.”
A science fair helps spark scientific interest in students, Anglin added.
“If I were to force students to do a science fair project only on a slim range of topics, I would get back less-than-exciting projects that were merely a copy of a project found online,” he said.
Giving students a range of options allows them to own the process, he said.
“I then help them to refine that project, and make it into a high-quality project that they can be proud of,” Anglin said.
He thinks teachers can use science fair projects to share their passion for understanding how the world works. And he shares that with students about their science fair projects as well.
“I tell them I want them to try to change the world, and not settle for anything less than their best,” Anglin said.
He believes this gives students an opportunity for an authentic way to experience science.
“They aren’t just reading a textbook or taking notes, they are actually doing science. They are being scientists,” Anglin said. “Many students, myself included, change their career path after advancing to state or international competition.”
De Vroeg’s new interest in scientific competitions may bode well for the young man, Anglin said.
“Ryan is one of my most enthusiastic students when it comes to scientific discovery,” he said. “He has a lot of great ideas, and, if he pursues those interests, he will make a dramatic impact on the world of material engineering.”
He’s particularly impressed by De Vroeg’s grasp of concepts, especially in light of his youth.
“To do this kind of work as a freshman in high school is almost unheard of,” Anglin said. “Ryan has positioned himself to be a competitor at the regional, state, and international level over the next three years if he stays dedicated to his craft and really focuses on generating unique and applicable projects.”
Published March 12, 2014