Competing in a virtual science fair

By Jim Hsia

One week before the prestigious Synopsys Championship Science Fair at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, aspiring scientists and engineers were informed that the fair would be changed to online. For the middle school competitors from Milpitas Christian School (MCS), this was the time to practice their creative problem-solving skills.

After the county of Santa Clara banned large gatherings, the Synopsys Championship organizers decided it was time to have their first virtual Science Fair. Suddenly all the text, graphics, photos, and videos that would have been shown on a display board or notebook would need to be scanned and uploaded. A panel of judges would now be evaluating the materials and presentations of each student through a video conference.

MCS Participants in the Synopsys Championship

Six eighth graders from Mr. Eric Cho’s science class were accepted into the Synopsys Championship.

  • Bowie C., The Growth of Moss Under Different Growing Conditions
  • Terry H. and William T., Up, Up, and Away: A Quantitative Analysis On The Most Efficient Airfoil Type
  • Justin H., Using A Grating Spectrometer to Study the Effectiveness of Blue Light Blocking Glasses
  • Josephine K., Which Food Wrap Will Delay Food Decay the Longest?
  • Himani M., Bioplastic from Root Vegetables and Its Effect on Tensile Strength, Water Permeability, and Biodegradability

The annual Synopsys Championship showcases middle and high students in the Santa Clara County who will become our future scientists, technology experts, engineers, and mathematicians. MCS students competed against public and prestigious private middle schools from Cupertino, Santa Clara, San Jose, Campbell, and Milpitas.

MCS Winners

Terry H. and William T. jointly received the 2nd Award in the Physical Science and Engineering Category, while Himani M. received a total of six awards in the Physical Science and Engineering category.

  • 1st Award, Physical Science and Engineering Category
  • Nominated to compete in the Broadcom MASTERS, 8th Grade. This national science fair is scheduled for October 2020 in Washington, D.C.
  • Qualified for California Science & Engineering Fair (CSEF). Originally scheduled for April 2020 in Los Angeles, but has been cancelled due to COVID-19 crisis.
  • 2nd Place award and certificate from American Society of Civil Engineers- San Jose Branch
  • 2nd Place award and certificate from ASM International, A Society for Materials, Santa Clara Valley Chapter
  • Middle School award and recognition from Northern California Institute of Food Technologists (NCIFT)

“My project is about making bioplastics from root vegetables,” explained Himani M. “I created bioplastics from three different root vegetables and compared the efficiency of them to determine if they are reasonable alternatives to conventional plastic. Looking at the results of my research, I learned that bioplastics are a good alternative to conventional plastic and are environment friendly. My years at MCS have helped me grow a love for science. My teachers have really supported me and helped me pursue my interests and goals which has helped me to be confident in the projects that I do today.” After high school, Himani plans to pursue an undergraduate degree in engineering.

“I’m very pleased to see our middle school students develop a passion for science and engineering,” commented Eric Cho, Science teacher for MCS. “It’s very gratifying to see that the research and investigation by our students have been recognized by Santa Clara Valley Science & Engineering Fair Association (SCVSEFA) and the Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship this year. Only the top 5% of all participants were invited to the national science fair (Broadcom MASTERS); the top 10% qualified for the California State Science Fair (CSEF).”

For more information about Milpitas Christian School or to arrange a campus tour (in-person or virtual), visit MilpitasChristian.org or call (408) 945-6530 x11209.

Food Anxiety Sparks Renewed Interest in Victory Gardens

By David R. Newman

Planting a vegetable garden is quickly becoming a popular pastime as grocery stores struggle to keep food on the shelves and a Shelter-In-Place order keeps people at home. According to Michael Wirthlin, an avid gardener and sales associate in The Nursery at Dale’s Hardware, “Our numbers show that the vegetable category is up thousands of percent over last year. The only thing limiting our sales is the supply from the growers.”

Indeed, food supply anxiety has swept the nation, and not for the first time. Americans were first introduced to the idea of a “Victory Garden” during World War I, when the government urged citizens to plant in every conceivable plot of land, from empty lots to their own backyards. Propaganda from the National War Garden Commission read, “Prevention of widespread starvation is the peacetime obligation of the United States. … The War Garden of 1918 must become the Victory Garden of 1919.”

The similarities between now and then are striking; the feeling of wartime unity, of rationing, conserving resources, and fighting for the common good, as doctors and nurses do battle on the front lines against an unseen enemy.

Elaine, who manages a community garden and nursery for a Fremont organization known as LEAF, has seen a renewed interest in gardening over the past few years and especially now. At their annual Spring/Summer Plant Sale, which began on April 26, they sold over forty percent of their 3,000 plants in the first week. Says Elaine, “We sold in one week what we normally sell in one month, and I think it has a lot to do with food security. People want to grow everything in their backyards, they want to know where it came from and who touched it.”

An analysis of web search traffic conducted by McConkey, a leading manufacturer and distributor of horticultural goods, shows that the interest in gardening is up fifty percent, especially when it comes to growing vegetables. The report concludes, “people view food as a source of security during a time of uncertainty.” According to Elaine, “The online nursery industry is booming right now.”

During World War II, victory gardens returned in force, producing an estimated forty percent of the country’s vegetables from about 20 million gardens. Says Wirthlin, “In any economic hardship people are food insecure so they turn to growing their own food, from first timers to seasoned farmers.” Wirthlin is in the latter category, having grown crops in his small yard for decades, from tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, to cucumber, lettuce, kale, bok choy, and green beans. He also likes to grow herbs like cilantro, basil, and parsley.

So what to do if you want in on this current trend? Wirthlin advises, “You can start very simply with just a pot, some fresh potting soil, and a dwarf tomato plant. That’ll give you a lot of bang for your buck. You’ll be picking tomatoes all summer long. Or pick an unused plot in your yard, turn it over, and add some compost and organic fertilizer. In a sunny spot you can grow anything you want really.” Raised planters work best for warding off weeds and pests.

With summer just around the corner, many people think it may be too late to start a garden. But the mild Bay Area climate is perfect for planting a wide variety of fruits and vegetables all the way into June. And once harvested, many keep their gardens going through winter by rotating their crop. Says Wirthlin, “There’s no reason to stop. There are any number of cool weather, hardy vegetables that you can plant – leafy greens like kale, anything in the cabbage family like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, or brussel sprouts, root crops like lettuce, beets, carrots, or turnips, maybe some snow peas.”

Undeniably planting a garden is hard work. It takes perseverance and patience and lots of trial and error. During World War II, millions of first-time gardeners gave up after the first year, according to the New York Times. But for those brave enough to try it can be a rewarding experience, and now is the perfect time to plant a “Corona Garden”.

There are a great number of resources to help you on this journey, from YouTube videos to places like LEAF, who rent planters, sell seedlings, and provide free online training and education through their website and blog. What planting zone do we live in? What kind of seeds are there? What is the difference between GMO and non-GMO? What is organic fertilizer? Says Elaine, “Our core value here is community. Everyone who volunteers for us believes in helping others, which is why we donate plants and offer free workshops.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably changed the way we live, especially here in the busy Bay Area. Life moves a little slower now. We have time to appreciate each other. People are cooking and baking more. When we finally prevail over the virus and victory is at hand, how much of this quarantined lifestyle will remain with us? Having a “Corona Garden” will not only feed our body, but may feed our soul as well, serving as a reminder of a time when the world was just a little bit smaller.

LEAF’s Spring/Summer Plant Sale is happening now

Online Plant Sales Catalog: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1qJB8oqc6YPkE6sZd0urifPBVHb-KpQNl8vzyVQlOAGY/edit?usp=sharing

(Curbside Pickup at C.R. Stone Garden or Home Delivery)

LEAF C.R. Stone Garden
55 Mowry Ave., Fremont

LEAF rents planters to residents of Fremont, Newark, Sunol, and Union City @

LEAF Center @ California Nursery Historical Park
36501 Niles Blvd., Fremont

More info @ http://www.fremontleaf.org

Take A Hike! Oh, and Bring the Family…

by David R. Newman

Now is the perfect time to get out and explore all of the many outdoor gems the East Bay has to offer. Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, and with it, the official start of summer. To celebrate, here’s a list of family friendly hikes to help you fight those quarantine blues…

San Leandro
Heron Bay – This marshy strip of land makes up part of the San Leandro shoreline that touches the bay. It’s open and beautiful, with a nice wide paved trail that leads north all the way to the San Leandro Marina and some southward gravel trails that meander through the marsh and eventually connect with the Hayward Regional Shoreline. Perfect for bikes, joggers, walkers, and dogs. As part of the Bay Trail, the views of the bay are amazing, especially during low tide when birds fan out along the wet sand to feast. This is a nice place to go when it’s hot, as the winds coming in off the bay offer some cool relief.
14010 Neptune Dr, San Leandro (take Lewelling Blvd west to Bayfront Drive)

Castro Valley
Fairmont Ridge – When you mention hiking in Castro Valley, most people think of Lake Chabot, with its many picnic areas and miles of trails that ring the lake. But there is a lesser known area just above the lake to the west called the Fairmont Ridge Staging Area that dog lovers flock to. It’s a simple paved road that follows the ridge for a few miles, ending in a small grove of trees that embrace the Alameda County Children’s Memorial. Views are fantastic, with a sweeping vista of the bay to the west, and a birdseye view of Lake Chabot to the east. If you’re feeling adventurous, try one of the smaller dirt trails that break off from the main road and meander through the rolling terrain. Grazing cattle can often be seen here and sometimes lounge right next to the trail.
2601 Fairmont Dr, San Leandro

Hayward
Garin Regional Park – A beautiful park in the Hayward Hills with several trails and some
wonderful picnic spots. It’s right next to Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park, and in fact some of the trails connect but you would never know you’re in a different park. There’s something for everyone here, from ridge trails with jaw-dropping views of the bay, to winding creek trails, to serene flat pathways, to challenging slopes covered with wildflowers.
1320 Garin Ave, Hayward (access also available off of Ziele Creek Drive)

Greenbelt Trails – Another hidden gem managed by the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD), this 6.3 mile trail links The Plunge/Memorial Park in downtown Hayward with East Avenue Park in the hills behind the Cal State East Bay campus. You would never guess it was there amidst all the urban sprawl, but it’s truly an oasis. Follow Ward Creek on a mostly wide dirt trail. It’s shaded by trees the whole way and a great way to escape the summer heat.
Parking at 24176 Mission Blvd, Hayward, or 3221 East Ave, Hayward

Sunol
Little Yosemite – The Sunol Regional Wilderness is a vast, well, wilderness, covering acres of land. It’s a little remote compared to the other hikes listed here. The Canyon View Trail leads from the visitor center to Little Yosemite, a scenic canyon with small waterfalls. It’s a nice hike, but a tad grueling. For an easier route, just follow Camp Ohlone Road from the parking lot. The star here is the Alameda Creek, at times wide and shallow, while at other times babbling and gushing.
1895 Geary Rd, Sunol

Union City
Alameda Creek – Yes, it’s the Alameda Creek again, but this time in a more tame environment. Follow the channel behind rows of houses on a flat, paved road that’s perfect for a family escape. Go far enough and you’ll reach Coyote Hills to the west, or Quarry Lakes to the east.
Several access points. Parking available behind library at 34007 Alvarado-Niles Rd, Union City

Fremont
Central Park/Lake Elizabeth – Located in the heart of Fremont, this is the perfect place to
unwind. Whether you follow one of the paved paths by bike or simply want to stroll the grounds with your dog, now is a great time to enjoy this area when the crowds are away.
40000 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont – parking at Sailway Drive

Newark
Coyote Hills Regional Park – A few rolling hills surrounded on all sides by marshland, this is a wonderful place to explore. The trails are easy and most are paved. Interesting rock formations and an Ohlone village site.
8000 Patterson Ranch Road, Fremont

Milpitas

Ed R. Levin County Park – This is a huge family friendly park with many trails, a few ponds, and scenic views throughout. Located in the hills behind Milpitas, many don’t realize it’s there. Hiking one of the shorter trails can be pleasant, or you may want to challenge yourself with a longer trail.
3100 Calaveras Rd, Milpitas

When visiting any of the East Bay Parks, remember these guidelines:
Wear cloth face coverings/masks as recommended by the CDC.
Maintain 6 feet social distance from other park users while walking, biking, and fishing.
NO picnicking, gatherings, or meetup groups (only immediate households).
PACK OUT YOUR TRASH. Do not leave trash in parks and on trails.
Keep dogs ON LEASH at ALL times in ALL parks (where allowed)
Bring water and hand sanitizer. Water fountains in parks are temporarily closed to stem the spread of virus.
Park vehicles properly, safely, and respect park neighbors and park staff. Do not block driveway, roadway, emergency exit, or service access road. Parking restrictions will be enforced.

Also, remember to bring water and wear sunscreen and a hat!

So what are you waiting for? Get out and explore nature. You’ll feel better about yourself and the world. As Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

As of this writing, all restrooms near trail access are open. For more park info and COVID-19 updates, visit ebparks.org

Local libraries’ stand against global pandemic

By Marc Vicente
May 26, 2020

With shelter-in-place orders being extended, it remains uncertain when organizations will resume normal operations, and businesses and public facilities are finding ways to adapt.

Libraries have undergone perhaps the most drastic of changes during this pandemic season. They house a wide variety of books that circulate through more than one person through checkout. However, because the virus spreads through contact with people and other surfaces, checking out new physical books has been postponed ever since quarantine protocols were initiated to reduce the spread of the virus. In addition, many libraries in the Bay Area have extended the deadline of checked out media so that patrons can return them when the pandemic dies down. Multiple events involving the libraries have also been postponed to maintain the safety of library patrons.

Sometimes, libraries can serve as places for refuge for when disasters occur. Fremont Main Library Division Director Brian Edwards says,“A couple years ago, when we had fires, we had clean air circulating through the library so we had people coming inside for space to breathe and a cool place because they didn’t have that at home. With this virus, we have to close our doors, which is hard for a lot of people and their mental health. This pandemic is difficult for a lot of people at home, with a lot of necessary services closed down. Some people have no access to internet, music or streaming services, so they are waiting for us to reopen soon.”

While a large majority of their physical books remain on shelves, libraries continue to help their communities through their websites, by providing registration for virtual library cards, or eCards that allow free access to their online archive. Some libraries, like the Hayward Public Library, also offered Chromebooks to some people via checkout before they closed down. Hayward Public Library Director of Library Services Jayanti Addleman states that “the transition to digital services was not as difficult as one would expect, since [libraries] were equipped with online services long before the spread of COVID-19.”

In addition to eCards, local libraries promote other services, as well as events hosted by their librarians. Tutoring services for students, moral support lines for various demographics, and Census assistance are some of the services offered by multiple Bay Area libraries. Some offer their own unique events, such as Hayward Public Library’s virtual storytimes for children, and Union City Library’s Twitch streaming service to play games with their patrons.

On top of adapting their current services, libraries currently cooperate with the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the State of California to continue creating innovative ways to reconfigure their arrangements to decrease the spread of COVID-19 among patrons when they reopen. Since libraries can only distribute their eBooks a finite number of times while under digital rights laws, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Edwards says that libraries have to constantly update, organize and expand their online databases to maintain and provide more content for patrons to enjoy, especially since the use of eLibraries has skyrocketed in the past two months. Seating and computer layouts among multiple libraries will be rearranged to observe social distancing procedures, with Addleman stating that the Hayward Public Library will start adding plexiglass sneeze guards to their computer stations. Additionally, plans to initiate contactless pickup of books are said to be started around June. However, before libraries open up again to implement such changes, the CDC and IMLS still have yet to discover the best possible courses of action to ensure that everyone can remain safe from the ever-spreading COVID-19 virus.

Hayward Public Library

Digital Lending
Ecards
Virtual classes/meetups
Tutoring
Census Information
Virtual Storytime
(510) 293-8685
https://www.hayward-ca.gov/public-library

Fremont Main Library

Digital Lending
Ecards
Virtual classes/meetups
Tutoring
Homeless Services
(510) 745-1400
https://guides.aclibrary.org/fremont

Milpitas Library

Digital Lending 
Ecards
Tutoring
Virtual classes/meetups
Census Information
Passport Services
(408) 262-1171
https://sccld.org/locations/MI/

Editor’s Note:
Fremont Main, Castro Valley and San Lorenzo libraries are offering “no contact pickup” services. Items can be requested online, by phone or in-person by filling out a hold request and retrieving the items at a no-contact pickup table. Additional information is available at

https://guides.aclibrary.org/NoContactPickup

or by calling:
Fremont Main: (510) 745-1400
Castro Valley: (510) 667-7900
San Lorenzo: (510) 284-0640

Local Makers Join Forces to Help Fight Coronavirus

By David R. Newman

Medical supplies are in short supply these days, but thanks to some innovative thinking by nonprofits like Maker Nexus, doctors and nurses who are on the front lines fighting Covid-19 are able to operate safely.

Maker Nexus is a maker space in Sunnyvale that provides tools and training for a membership fee. For $150 per month, users have access to 3D printers, laser cutters, a woodshop, metal shop, vinyl cutter, heat press, and more. When word spread that hospitals were running out of personal protective equipment, primarily face masks, face shields, and gloves, the idea to 3D print them was born.

Says Eric Hess, General Manager of Maker Nexus,” It was very clear that there was going to be a shortage based on the experience in Italy and the initial cases that were coming up in the Santa Clara region.” They decided to focus on creating face shields, a product that lends itself well to the 3D printing process.

After researching face shields online, Hess settled on a design created by Prusa, a 3D printing company based in the Czech Republic (Maker Nexus owns five of their printers). Prusa face shields were already being used in hospitals throughout Europe. However, design changes were needed, as doctors and nurses here wanted protection over their heads as well to prevent droplets from falling into their eyes.

After a few design tweaks, Hess ran the first print on March 19. Two days later, the first prototype was in the hands of local medical professionals. Says Hess, “It was a very rapid process. That’s one of the cool things about a maker space. You can iterate very quickly through a design process with a bunch of different people contributing, even though they’re all working remotely.”

In fact, maker spaces across the country have leapt into action in the war against the Coronavirus, filling the gap left by traditional manufacturing methods. Says Hess, “There’s a huge problem with the supply chain right now because factories in China are shut down. This is compounded by the tremendous demand for equipment. This is a way that we can step up to help the community by providing some immediate solutions that traditional manufacturing can’t fulfill.”

It would seem to be the perfect scenario for the maker community. As Shelter-In-Place orders keep everyone at home, those with 3D printers can simply download the plans and start producing parts. Hess estimates that around 400 volunteers have signed up to help, with more being added every day. The main challenge right now is obtaining the material needed to keep production flowing. Says Hess, “We’re trying to reach out directly to the larger suppliers.”

Local students have also risen to the occasion, including Aditya Indla, a sophomore at Bellermine Prep in San Jose. Along with his uncle, a researcher at UC Berkeley, and his school’s maker lab, he has joined the fight not only by making face shields but by raising money to help buy the needed plastic. They estimate that each face shield costs around $5 – $10 to make. Indla has started a GoFundMe page (see link below) with a goal of raising $10,000.

As of this writing, the Maker Nexus community is producing about 300 face shields per day, with a total of over 5,000 face shields having already been delivered to local medical facilities, including the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Foundation, Kaiser in Oakland, Good Samaritan Hospital, Alta Bates Medical Center, Highland Hospital, Benioff Children’s Hospital, and the Weil Cornell Medical Center in New York. 

Maker Nexus currently has requests for over 20,000 face shields from over 130 different medical facilities. As the number of Coronavirus cases continue to rise and demand for more face shields increases drastically from day to day, Hess admits it’s been a little overwhelming.

“It’s been a challenge. But we’re a community organization – it’s primary component of who we are. And together we can help get this equipment into the hands of the doctors and nurses on the front lines.”

For More Information and Ways to Help:
https://www.covidshieldnexus.org/
https://www.gofundme.com/f/3d-print-covid19-healthcare-faceshields