Sixth Grader Wins Bid to California State Science Fair

Congratulations to inspired young scientists Amalia Bernardi, Holden Smith, and Lekha Duvvoori, each of whom won awards in the recent Santa Cruz County Science Fair!

Sixth grader Amalia had two objectives for her project, “Adaptation, Antibiotics and Bacteria.” She wanted to determine how effective some natural compounds are at slowing bacterial growth (antibiotic activity); and to determine how bacteria can be selected to grow resistance to those natural antibiotics. Her efforts earned her a Second Place award in Microbiology, Junior Division and an invitation to participate in the 60th annual California State Science Fair. Amalia and her Dad will be heading to Los Angeles for that Science Fair, to be held May 2-3.

The natural compounds Amalia tested were moldy cheese, cayenne pepper, dog drool, mom’s drool, vinegar and coconut oil.  She found vinegar, followed by cayenne pepper and dog drool, to be the most powerful at inhibiting bacterial growth.

“Adaptation is an exciting and fun topic, and an important part of evolution, which I am very interested in,” says Amalia. “It is fun and academic to do a project on it and to learn from it.  Although scientists know a lot about adaptation, we don’t know everything, and I wanted to learn about adaptation first-hand.”

Holden, a seventh grader, took Second Place in the Behavioral Social Sciences, Junior Division, for his project, “The Affect of Positive Praise on Short Term Memory for Words and Numbers.” Holden tested 5th, 6th, and 7th grade classmates on their ability to remember a list of numbers and words. One week later he retested the same students, but he told them they did very poorly on the word memory test and very well on the number test (although the results were the exact opposite).  He hypothesized that positive praise would improve test scores while negative feedback would not affect their scores.

The students performed significantly better on the number retest while their scores remained the same on the word retest, thus supporting his hypothesis. He also looked at differences between ages and gender on test performance. “I wish all teachers could see my project so they would understand and realize how much positive praise helps students,” remarked Holden.  

For her project, “Turn the Sun to Cook” Lekha, a fifth grader, earned Fourth Place in Energy and Power, Elementary Division. “I got interested in solar cookers at a camp last summer,” Lekha explains, “and really wanted to explore them further. I enjoyed presenting my cookers and project at the Summit for the Planet festival, and plan to cook in them this summer. After this I will always think of how we can use the sun’s power.”

Lekha’s project compared three different types of solar cooker constructions, the ‘Solar Cookit’ type panel cooker, the ‘FunPanel’ funnel cooker and a pizza box cooker.  She built and tested them in outdoors conditions and indoors with a lamp. 

Nine other Mount Madonna School students entered the Santa Cruz County Science Fair. In Sixth Grade: Anthony Kalmeta, Electronics and Electromagnetics. In Seventh Grade: Elijah Ezeji-Okoye, Earth Science; Ethan Harrington, Physics and Astronomy; Nat Hsia-Coron, Product Science; Saniya Lakka, Environmental Science; Sophia Saavedra, Botany; and Willow Limbach, Physics and Astronomy. In Eighth Grade: Emma Gellman, Environmental Science. In Ninth Grade: Preethi Balagani, Medicine and Health. 


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Media & Public Relations,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.