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Balaji, Barbour at Liberty in top spots at state science fair

MADISON – Two students from Liberty Middle School received well-deserved respect and kudos at the Alabama Science and Engineering Fair or ASEF at Auburn University.

After Liberty’s Science Fair in January, sixth-grader Shravan Balaji and seventh-grader Leland Barbour advanced to North Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair or NARSEF at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in March.

“They were then selected for the Alabama Science and Engineering Fair on April 1, and I could not be more proud,” Carla Beardslee, Liberty Science Fair Sponsor, said. Beardslee is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Balaji and Barbour’s hard work and dedication are prerequisites to achieve this kind of success at these science fairs . . . especially at the state level. “I have personally seen a student at the high-school level win a five-year scholarship to Auburn University — all expenses paid due to his science fair project and nothing else,” Beardslee said.

At ASEF, Balaji won third place for his project, “Gene Variations and Their Impact on Medication Efficacy.” He was nominated for the 2023 Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge or JIC, a program of the Society for Science. Formerly called the Broadcom MASTERS, the Thermo Fisher Challenge is the premier STEM competition for U.S. sixth- through eighth-graders.

“Thermo Fisher is an incredible achievement — only the top 10 percent of middle-school projects nationwide are invited to apply online for the national competition,” Beardslee said.

“Having my sister Madhushalini Balaji participate in science fair (annually) was a significant motivator for me to join in,” Shravan said. “Furthermore, a summer camp at Hudson Alpha that focused on genetics sparked my interest and encouraged me to pursue a project in that area.”

Shravan thanked all his teachers for supporting and encouraging him to pursue his interests.

The other Liberty standout, Barbour grew up in California and moved to Alabama in 2021. He enjoys engineering projects such as building robots, working with electronics, programming and visiting observatories, aquariums and Huntsville’s rocket center.

He likes to learn about the scientific method and to pursue at-home projects. His interests include football, swimming and history.

Barbour has participated in science fairs since sixth grade. In 2022, he researched drone aerodynamics. This year, his work expanded to drone sensors.

At NARSEF, Barbour won the STEM Leadership Prize that Department of Defense sponsors and the Greater Huntsville Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics contest.

Winning first place, Barbour topped the Robert H. Herndon Award that The Aerospace Corporation sponsors and earned first place in the category, Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics and Materials Science.

At ASEF, Barbour earned second place, Naval Science Award, sponsored by Office of Naval Research; won Electrical & Computer Engineering Award, sponsored by Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Auburn University; and claimed first place, Robotic Systems & Communication Technology category.

“Parents play a huge role in how excited students are about learning and how dedicated students are to their education,” Beardslee said. “Without dedicated parents that want the best for their children, the education system would be in peril . . . that is only my opinion but you can tell from the child how involved the parents are or are not. These parents encourage learning, and you can see it with the entire family.”

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