Gould’s “Fair” Share

April 14, 2021
Auburn Putz-Burton ’21 took first prize in the chemistry category at this year’s Maine State Science Fair for their project on elemental soil analysis.

Auburn Putz-Burton ’21 took first prize in the chemistry category at this year’s Maine State Science Fair for their project on elemental soil analysis.


Science Research Class Takes Projects to Maine State Science Fair

Eleven Gould students, in three time zones, competed at this year’s Maine State Science Fair—remotely, of course. 

Everyone was on time and able to find their judging link, says STEM department chair, Peter Southam. That in itself is no small accomplishment, but the students, who are part of Southam’s Research Methods in Science class, demonstrated some impressive learning—and earned a few medals in the process.

“I am so proud of these kids,” says Southam, “not only for the work they have done to get into the fair but also to follow through with all of the requirements all year.”


“I am so proud of these kids not only for the work they have done to get into the fair but also to follow through with all of the requirements all year.”

PETER SOUTHAM, STEM DEPARTMENT CHAIR


Taking first place in Chemistry, Auburn Putz-Burton (they/their) who did an elemental analysis of soil at The Smithtown Historical Society Heritage Site in New York, near their hometown

“It was really interesting,” Auburn said. “I did an analysis of the use of land over time, taking samples of the soil, doing X-Ray fluorescence spectrometry, or XRF, to find elements in the soil. Then I went through a lot of archival documents to try to figure out how the elemental composition lined up with use over time.”

Auburn, a winner at this year's Maine Science Fair, at work in the McLaughlin Science Center on their soil excavation project.

Auburn at work in the McLaughlin Science Center


Auburn also worked with the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel and got to work with Al Falster, a member of their research group.

“He’s this great, accomplished mineralogist and a fantastic person,” said Auburn. “He was able to show me so much awesome stuff that I never thought I’d learn about XRF. It was great to work with him.”

The Smithtown library and historical society provided plenty of resources as well—maps, books, and old journals. “It was a lot to sort through,” they said. “I’ve lived near the site my whole life and been really interested in history, archaeology, and science, so i thought it would be a good way to combine my interests. The research class gave me the opportunity to do it.”

The hardest part was the documentation, said Auburn, and putting everything together to come up with solid, supportable assertions about the land. 

“Theres’ a lot to rule out,” they said. “It’s a huge field of study. What different elements in the solid could be, all the different sources, and where they could have come from. Much of it was about ruling out options.”

The breakthrough moment, though, came when they heard that there was a blacksmith shop somewhere on property. 

“I had this one sample with really high levels of lead in it. And so I searched for days to try to find more evidence of where the blacksmith shop was, and then I came across this one journal entry where someone pinned down the location, right where I had taken that sample. And I was like, ‘Yes, that’s perfect. That’s it.’ I didn’t expect to have anything really concrete like that, but I did.”

A close up of Auburn working in the lab on their Maine Science Fair and Senior Research Project


Kate Saidy ’21 working late night in the lab on her science research and science fair project

Kate Saidy ’21 working late at night in the lab on her science research project

Maine Science Fair Award Winners from Gould

  • Auburn Putz-Burton ’211st place, Chemistry
    Elemental analysis of soil at a historic site
  • Jiaqi Li ’21  – 2nd place, Chemistry
    Effects of vape extract on Daphnia manga
  • James Yao ’212nd place, Animal Science
    Effect of disinfectants on the health of spiders
  • Kevin Kim ’212nd place, Materials Science
    Physical and catalytic properties of carbon nanoparticles derived from coffee waste
  • Clarence Xie ’213rd place, Human Psychology-Sociology
    Coping differences during Covid of different age high school students
  • Kate Saidy ’21American Meteorological Society Award
    Development of a spectrophotometric algae-measuring device for use with a remote underwater vehicle

More Featured Science Projects:

  • Mia Wang ’21 – Transport of arsenic by microplastics
  • Tom Shan ’21 – Virtual reality programming environment and the effectiveness of a VR museum
  • Eli Shifrin ’23 – Study of a trout stream at, above, and below a site of pollution
  • Terence Xiao ’22 – Examining Covid policies’ effect on tourism
  • Tracy He ’22 – Trends in online purchasing in China during the pandemic

The Maine State Science Fair (MSSF) is a wonderful opportunity for Maine high school students to present their original research to a statewide audience of their peers and judges including scientists, engineers, mathematicians, teachers, and other STEM professionals.


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