Young scientists aim for D.C. trip

Two local students’ science fair projects have given them chances at winning a trip to Washington, D.C., and $25,000 after the youths were named semifinalists in a national science and engineering contest.

Emily Cleveland of Kalis-pell and Luke Ritzdorf of Bigfork are among 300 semifinalists in the Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) middle-school competition. There were only three Montana semifinalists named; the other was eighth-grader Christopher Pasecznyk of Absarokee Junior High.

Cleveland’s project is titled “Smarter Salt,” and Ritzdorf’s is “Using a Towable Conductivity-Mapping System to Locate Springs or Septic Leachate.”

Semifinalists were chosen from 6,000 nominees and 2,434 applicants in grades six, seven and eight. Each application received three independent readings and evaluations by scientists, engineers and educators. Nominees qualified to enter the competition by placing among the top 10 percent among participants at science fairs affiliated with the nonprofit, Society for Science and the Public.

Both Cleveland and Ritzdorf won several awards for their science projects at the 2016 Montana Science Fair at the University of Montana when they were in seventh and eighth grades, respectively.

Cleveland’s project earned a first-place grand award for best seventh-grade exhibit in addition to a Peterson Grand Award for overall best seventh-grade biological exhibit and a Division 2 award from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for best project relating to fish, wildlife or water quality.

Ritzdorf’s project earned the first-place grand award for best eighth-grade physical science exhibit. His project also earned a Peterson Grand Award for overall best eighth-grade physical exhibit.

Thirty finalists will be announced Sept. 20. Finalists win trips to Washington, D.C., to present their research projects and compete in team hands-on science, technology, engineering and math challenges for a top prize of $25,000.

Hilary Matheson is a reporter for The Daily Inter Lake. She may be reached at 758-4431 or

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