A Lodi Unified School District student bested 1,000 science fair entrants to take one of the top spots in a countywide competition. The results of the 53rd annual fair were released late Thursday.
Lodi resident Julie Fukunaga plans 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.
Fukunaga, who took first in the sixth- through eighth-grade division, is no stranger to county contests. As a student at Vinewood Elementary School, she placed first in the science fair two years ago (in the third- to fifth-grade division) and second last year (in the sixth- to eighth-grade division).
And, in December, she spelled her way to success, taking first place in her division at the countywide spelling bee championship. She will compete in the California State Junior High Spelling Bee Competition on May 14 in San Rafael.
Fukunaga, who received a $100 savings bond and plaque for that win, lives in Lodi with her parents, Michael and Cham. In addition to the science fair, she has competed in the Academic Pentathlon and Science Olympiad.
"It was a great experience to do the spelling bee and the science fair," Fukunaga said. "It was really interesting to meet students who have common interests, see science projects and present your project to real scientists.
"I also like doing these competitions because I get to travel to different places. These competitions will probably help me in the future," she said.
But the Elkhorn Elementary School seventh-grader's passion trickles down into her daily life, according to Cheri Burila, Fukunaga's piano teacher for the past eight years.
"The thing that always amazes me the most is her passion for everything she does. Whether it's working on a project, playing the piano, or playing in the back yard, her heart is in everything she does," she wrote in an e-mail. "This passion for life is enhanced by her wonderful parents and sister, who sit back quietly and allow her to choose her path and then support her decisions."
Vinewood teacher Kim Hutson, who coached Fukunaga in the Academic Pentathlon last year, also spoke highly of her.
"What strikes me as remarkable about Julie is that she doesn't seem to stress out over her projects or assignments. She doesn't agonize over making things perfect," Hutson said.
Cham Fukunaga said she and Fukunaga's father have taught their children to manage their time, and give them complete freedom to organize their schedule when it comes to their school work.
For academic events, Fukunaga practices regularly, so it takes her only 15 to 20 minutes a day per event.
And, when she's not studying, Fukunaga enjoys watching the same TV shows as her friends, playing on the computer and playing piano, saxophone and tennis.
With her project on weed problems in vineyards, Fukunaga will compete in the state science fair competition in May in Los Angeles.
She identified a way to control weeds by using computer circuitry to detect if the 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.
More than 400 projects created by nearly 1,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade were displayed this week at the county fairgrounds. An estimated 30 schools were represented.
The awards ceremony was held Thursday.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.