Published in the May 23 – June 5, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Ayana Wilmot

Ayana Wilmot

My journey to the California Science & Engineering Fair began with the South Valley Science Fair held at Oakwood School Jan. 11. My project was about testing different types of lichens to see if they could produce oxygen in Mars-like conditions, and to determine which one was best for doing so. I got my inspiration from the movie “The Martian” in which a man is stranded on Mars and grows potatoes to feed himself. Humans will need oxygen to live on Mars and I wondered if lichen could be suitable as a source since it’s one of the hardiest organisms on Earth and can photosynthesize in harsh conditions.

I won first place in the biology category at the South Valley Science Fair and entered my project in the Synopsys Championship in March. More than 1,000 students from across Santa Clara County competed. The results of the Synopsys fair were not announced until a special ceremony held April 9. I was so excited when I learned I won a First Award in the Biological Sciences & Engineering category and the Isabelle Stone Award for Best Seventh Grade Biological Sciences Project. I was also recognized by the California Botanical Society for the Best Plant Science project and sponsored to compete in the California Science and Engineering Fair, in Los Angeles. Because I was sponsored, I got to fly to Los Angeles and my hotel and food expenses were paid for. My poster board traveled separately in a car driven by one of the Synopsys judges.


On Monday April 23, I woke up early to go to the San Jose airport with my dad. The driver who was scheduled to pick us up was half an hour late because she went to the wrong address, and we were stuck in commute traffic for more than 90 minutes. I was so nervous that I was going to miss my flight, but luckily we made it. The Southwest flight was an hour long and I sat next to a girl I had met at an informational meeting two days prior. My nervousness returned because last year at the State Science Fair, I participated in the Electronics and Electromagnetics category and didn’t win anything. I remember how disappointed I was after the awards ceremony. This year, I was determined to go home with a medal.

After my flight arrived, a bus took us to the California Science Center. I checked in and was happy to see that I got to set up my poster board in the room with the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Then, there was an opening ceremony in which Dr. Linda Spilker, a scientist who had worked on the Cassini mission, gave a keynote address. After that, I looked at different restaurants and buildings near the U.S.C. campus with my dad. Unfortunately, I started to feel a bit under the weather, so we went to CVS and bought some cold and cough medicine. I had some difficulties swallowing the pills, but eventually, it turned out alright.

The next morning, I was feeling a little better. I presented my project to nine category judges, and one special awards judge. Then I went to the African American Museum and looked at some inspiring exhibits using different media. After we headed back to the Science Center, I ordered a mint chocolate chip ice cream, and waited for the awards ceremony to begin. By the time I had polished off my dessert, there was already a long line in front of the Wallis Annenberg building doors where the award ceremony is held. When they opened, I sat next to a friend from school. I was anxious when I found out Plant Biology was going to be the 19th category out of 23 and realized I would have to wait a long time. When they finally announced the winners, I was so excited when I saw my project number on the screen. I went to the stage along with three others and was presented with a silver medal. I was awarded second place out of the entire Plant Biology section! It took lots of time and effort, but I am so glad I had this experience and I hope to compete again next year.

Ayana Rose Wilmot is a seventh grader at Oakwood School in Morgan Hill. She plays the violin in the San Jose Youth Symphony’s Intermezzo Orchestra and competitive soccer for Orchard Valley Toros FC.

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