The gym floor at Tuscarora High School, site of the 33rd Annual Loudoun County Public Schools Regional Engineering and Science Fair, was a crush of tri-fold poster boards with four-syllable Latin words and scientific jargon on March 20.
According to fair director Odette Scovel, there were almost 190 projects and more than 220 judges at the event, which was hosted by Orbital Sciences, a company that specializes in the manufacturing and launch of satellites for commercial and government ventures.
Neatly dressed ninth through 12th grade students stood in perfect rows of about a dozen as groups of about five judges at a time, from different disciplines, clustered around with clipboards and official fair lanyards poking, prodding and interrogating.
Once they were done they headed down the hall to the library – the nerve center for the fair's judges.
They sat at round tables eating sandwiches, salads or wraps off of paper plates and discussing the fates of the different competitors.
Carlos Niederstrasser, a master engineer at Orbital Sciences was one such judge.
He said he can sometimes tell from an abstract and just approaching a students poster whether or not they will be in the running to win an award.
Other times he believes it's necessary to have a discussion with the students to understand how much work was put into the project and to determine whether or not they have a true grasp of the material.
Niederstrasser believes the partnership is logical for Orbital and LCPS because they have a shared interest in science education.
"It's no news that we have a shortage of STEM students," he said.
The topic of women in science has also been a major point of discussion in the scientific community.
Rachel Burns, Hannah Devinney, Audrey Francis and Elishama Michel ultimately took home the "Best in Fair" awards and were invited to the International Science Fair in Los Angeles.
Three of the four "Best of Fair" winners were young women in 2014.
Burns and Francis both had projects that looked at what can be done to advance cancer treatment.
Michel tackled the issue of Alzheimer’s treatment while Devinney's project was from the computer science category, searching for a way to translate sign language using a 3D camera and software.
Ramsha Saad, another young woman who also competed in the computer science category, explained how her project has made her more interested in science in general.
Saad's project looked at the effects of cyber attacks on financial institutions.
Her interest in the topic came from the news, which she says she pays attention to regularly.
She said she watched what happened with Target and other high-profile breaches in security and wanted to connect that to her science fair project.
Another competitor Matthew Szelc, a senior at Dominion High School, wrote code to attempt to process data more quickly than the healthcare.gov website could when it began.
The title of his project was “Enhanced Healthcare Data Processing through Implementation of Microsoft SQL.”
He says he was successful and hopes to attend Washington University in St. Louis or Georgia Tech.
A list of science fair winners can be found here