It was a nerve-wracking moment, but one that Paige Hinkle had dreamed about for as long as she can remember.
The 15-year-old Wilson High School sophomore was in Dallas at an awards ceremony for the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. The event, held in May, saw more than 1,600 kids from around the world competing.
The announcer at the ceremony had already read off the fourth-, third- and second-place finishers in Paige’s category. Her name hadn’t been called.
“It was kind of go big or go home,” Paige said recently, recalling the moment. “I was walking away with first place or nothing.”
It wasn’t nothing. Paige’s name was called, making her the first-place winner in the contest’s earth and environmental sciences category.
“It was so overwhelming,” she said. “I was shedding a few tears. I went on stage and hugged the other winner from my category.”
Paige, who qualified for the international competition with her success in the Reading-Berks Science and Engineering Fair held in March, is the first Berks student to win a first-place prize at the international level since 1986.
Her win earned her a $5,000 award, along with $1,000 awards for the Reading-Berks Science Fair and Wilson High School.
Going into the international competition, Paige said she had mixed thoughts about her chances.
“Obviously, I was a little bit nervous,” she said. “But mostly I was just excited.
“I definitely knew that it was going to be a tough competition. It’s the largest science fair in the world for high school students. It definitely wasn’t going to be easy.”
Paige said getting a chance to meet the other students helped ease the tension.
“It was definitely a super cool experience getting to meet like-minded people from around the world,” she said. “It was super cool getting to talk with all the different people and everybody sharing a bit about where they were from.”
As for the competition, Paige said her confidence began to grow after spending a full day at her booth explaining her project to the competition’s judges.
“I felt I did good,” she said. “I felt like I had a good shot. But at that level, nothing is guaranteed.”
Paige said that even several weeks after hearing her name called she still has trouble wrapping her head around the fact that she won.
“I still can’t believe it,” she said. “It’s honestly all I’ve ever dreamed of. It’s kind of surreal.”
Paige said her love of science has deep roots, which makes something like a science fair right up her alley.
“I have always been a big science person,” she said. “I love the experimentation.”
She also likes the idea of being able to help people through science, she said. And her project aimed to do just that.
Paige studied radon levels in water, saying that while radon in air is a commonly studied subject there isn’t too much research about the dangers it can pose to water.
She found that there is, indeed, significant amounts of radon in water in Berks. But, fortunately, she also found that common mitigation measures substantially lowered its levels.
The project was actually the second she did on radon. Her first was when she was in sixth grade, entering her first real science fair with a study of radon in the air.
Paige thinks the key to her success is her dedication to the small things.
“I think attention to detail is something that’s so important,” she said when asked what goes into a great science fair project. “When you’re doing your project you have to have a strong idea, but also have the passion to explore the depths. And every part has to be very thorough — you have to not only look at the what but also the why.”
Paige plans to continue searching for the “why” in the future. Once she finishes high school, she plans to study some form of science in college, then pursue a career in the sciences.
“I wouldn’t say I have a dream job — it changes quite often,” she said. “But something with science, maybe biology or chemistry. Definitely something in research.”
As for her future with science fairs, Paige said she’s not sure what that will hold. She hasn’t ruled out doing another project next year, but hasn’t come up with a topic just yet.
“The science fair is a great experience. I’m open to doing it again,” she said. “I don’t quite know exactly what I’d do, but I’d definitely like to enter again.”
Source: Berkshire mont