Lodi's Julie Fukunaga took first place in one of 22 categories at a statewide science competition in Los Angeles this week.
Not only did the Elkhorn School seventh-grader place in the electronics and electro-magnetic category and receive $250, but she was also a recipient of the Alfarata Walley award for excellence in electronics (which added another $500 to her win) and qualifiedto be a semifinalist at the Broadcom Masters held this fall in Washington, D.C.
The sponsors select 30 semifinalists across the nation to compete for $25,000 in prize awards.
"I am very excited about this year's result because it is so competitive that I was really surprised to win first place," Fukunaga said.
Fukunaga took her county science fair project to the state level. In it she identified a way to control weeds by using computer circuitry to detect if an invasive plant is present, allowing grape-growers to spray only the exact location of the weed instead of bare ground.
The machine she wants to design would be equipped with sensors capable of identifying the plant's light reflectance, since chlorophyll pigments reflect near infrared waves along with visible light, she wrote in the report.
The California State Science Fair is the final science fair of the academic year for students throughout the state in grades 6-12. It has been held annually since 1952.
This year's competition hosted 1,000 participants from 403 schools.
For the win in her age division, Fukunaga was interviewed by eight judges, professionals or professors in electronics and computer science.
"You had to present your project and then answer questions. It can be stressful, but it gets easier as time goes by," she said.
She submitted the project's abstract in March, but built and tested another prototype in April in the vineyards, according to her mother, Cham Fukunaga.
The second prototype saved up to 70 percent of water and herbicide compared to 45 percent for the first prototype.
A league of her own
Assistant Superintendent Catherine Pennington believes Fukunaga is the first ever in the district to win a top award at the state science fair.
Annually, the county office of education sends nine students to the state competition, but they have not placed since 2006, according to Stephanie Anderson, who oversees the county science fair.
"This is an exceptional year and an even more exceptional group of students," she said.
In addition to Fukunaga, two other students from other districts placed at this year's state event.
A busy year
In March, Fukunaga bested 1,000 science fair entrants to take one of the top spots in the countywide science fair competition, which automatically advanced her to the state contest.
At the time, she had planned to use her prize money to improve the project for a possible patent of an apparatus to improve weed management in vineyards. Not only did she receive $200 from the county, but also a $1,600 donation.
She placed first in her division two years ago at the county fair, and second last year in the sixthto eighth-grade division.
Last December, she spelled her way to success, taking first place in her division at the countywide spelling bee championship. She will compete in the state spelling bee competition next week in San Rafael.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.