The Fukunaga sisters are a powerhouse of scientific know-how.
Julie and Kristen Fukunaga took first and second place, respectively, in the San Joaquin County Science Fair this weekend. Both girls attend Elkhorn School.
Julie Fukunaga continued the project that won first place in last year's fair. "Weedfinder: An Eco-friendly Herbicide Sprayer, Year 2" explored the construction of an environmentally friendly device used to identify and kill weeds while avoiding the plants around them.
"I worked on improving the efficiency of the device by using frequency modulation to detect the presence of weeds, added a user interface, adjusted the sensor, and fixed many previous problems," said Julie Fukunaga in an email. The project is intended to help farmers by saving on herbicide, gas and water.
Julie Fukunaga has competed in the science fair four times, and has never placed lower than second.
In Kristen Fukunaga's first science fair showing, she studied how to prevent canine acne.
"I wanted to learn about pomegranate essential oil's antibacterial properties in preventing human acne. I came across an article mentioning canine acne. I never heard of it before and thought it was an interesting idea for a project," she said. Her project is called "The Effect of Essential Oils on Canine Acne."
The seventh-grader tested 10 different essential oils — including pomegranate, clove bud, tea tree, eucalyptus and lemongrass oil — on three kinds of bacteria that cause canine acne. She found that clove and lemongrass oils worked better than the prescribed antibiotics.
Their mentor says both girls have creative minds.
"These girls go the extra mile. They're brilliant, they're creative, and they have supportive parents who will back them," said Gerald Oliver, a longtime science fair judge. He mentored both girls on their projects, but did not judge them in the competition.
Oliver wasn't surprised to see that Julie Fukunaga continued with the same project. She may work more on it this summer to make the weed sensors more precise. Kristen Fukunaga's project came out of the blue, but he was delighted to see her thinking outside the box.
Kristen and Julie Fukunaga will both move on to the state science fair competition in Los Angeles from April 30 to May 1.
Joining them will be Attie and Echo Sit, who won third place among sixthto eighth-grade students for their project "Catching the Greenhouse Culprit at Home." Brandon Brown earned an honorable mention in the same category for his project "Dripping Wet," and will also go to the state science fair. All three attend Tom Hawkins School in Tracy.
After 43 years judging science fairs, Oliver hasn't seen many projects as sophisticated as what the Fukunaga sisters worked on. But he's seen many students with the potential for that kind of work.
"I wish more people and more parents would see the benefit of science fair. It's one of the few arenas in which a student can take control of his own future and go after a scholarship," said Oliver.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.