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River Johnson wins regional science fair, heads to state championship

When River Johnson, a 7th grader at Pagosa Springs Middle School, first watched Ancient Top Ten’s show on the Baghdad Battery last summer, he had no idea that he would be heading to Fort Collins to compete with other middle school finalists in the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair (CSEF) this coming April.


The 2018 CSEF, held April 5-7 at Colorado State University, will bring together the top young scientists from 13 regional science fair competition, providing an opportunity to showcase their talent and compete for over $250,000 in prizes and scholarships.


“Science Fair is personalized learning in action,” says 7th grade Science Teacher Tiffany Candelaria. “These kids pick a project, participate in extensive research, design their experiment, and collect and analyze data. I simply facilitate and stay out of their way!”  


River nabbed 1st place in the category of Energy & Transportation at the 60th San Juan Regional Science Fair March 1, 2018, held in Durango, for his project detailing and replicating the action of the Baghdad Battery — a project that combined his love for history and science.


The Baghdad Battery is an ancient artifact made of a ceramic pot, a tube of copper, and a rod of iron. Originally discovered in the 1930s in modern day Iraq, the Baghdad Battery dates from the Parthian age (between 250 BC and AD 224). Scientists speculate on its purpose -- whether it operated as a galvanic cell, was used for electroplating, or functioned as a storage vessel for sacred scrolls.


You could ask River for his opinion, and you’d get a lot of relevant information in return. His extensive knowledge about the Baghdad Battery is impressive, based on his year-long research from a variety of sources, including the Smith College Museum of Ancient Inventions, the youtube channel, and many scientific-based websites and articles.


“I am a nerd for history, and I love science and math” says 12-year-old River, who won 3rd place in last year’s Science Fair for his project that demonstrated whether nickel or zinc worked better as an electrical conductor.


River is entered in the Junior Energy Division of the state competition. He has already been nominated to compete in the 2018 Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars), representing the top 10% of 6th, 7th and 8th grade student participants for this national competition. After submitting applications, the top 300 projects will be announced in September, and 30 finalists will present their research projects and compete in team hands-on STEM challenges in Washington, DC in October.


“This is a big honor to go to state in the Junior Division,” says River, who was born and raised in Pagosa Springs. River is half way toward his black belt in Tae Kwon Do and knows quite a bit about flint knapping, the ancient art of making arrowheads. He also enjoys camping, paddleboarding, biking and skiing.


Over 200 projects were entered into the regional science fair earlier this month. The following Pagosa Spring Middle School students were also winners in the competition: Nell Taylor (8th grade) won 1st place in Environmental Sciences. Noah Slingerland (7th) earned recognition from the United States Air Force with his project on aerodynamics. Sky Ott (6th) earned 3rd place in Energy & Transportation. Sorcha Sweeney (7th) and Jonathan Nasralla (7th) both earned honorable mentions. Andrew Bowles (7th), Kameron Winkler (7th) and Nell Taylor (8th) earned gift certificates for completing the Math Challenge.


Other Science Fair participants include: 6th graders Joey Happ and Dennis Kholostov, 7th graders Lynelle Bartz, Beatrice Yeneza, Skyar Sherman, Beatrice Carpenter, Hannah Girardin, and Rachael Goudie.