Ojai Valley School seventh grader Bella Slosberg stole the show this week at the California State Science Fair, taking top honors in the Junior Zoology Division with a project that could have far-reaching impacts on the world’s ability to reduce plastic waste.
Slosberg started her science project in December for the OVS school science fair, setting out to raise mealworm colonies to determine if they could safely ingest and breakdown troublesome polystyrenes such as Styrofoam.
But what started out as a school science project – appropriately dubbed Mealworm Madness –resulted in Slosberg being the second student in OVS history to earn first place at the state level.
After four long hours of presenting earlier this week and being evaluated by nine different judges, the clock struck 4 p.m. on Tuesday and it was time for winners to be announced by their project numbers.
Slosberg was floored when her number – J2216 – flashed on the board as the gold medal winner in her division.
“When I saw my project number on the side screen, my heart… I don’t know… it tied up in a knot,” said Slosberg, one of only three first-place winners from Ventura County. “I was so happy, I hugged a stranger.”
The 65th annual California State Science Fair was held at the California Science Center in Los Angeles on Monday and Tuesday, drawing 941 participants from 421 schools across the state.
Of those participants, 46 students were from Ventura County, and three represented Ojai: Slosberg, OVS eighth grader Aaron Wolf, and OVS alum Bella Welch, who won fourth place in the Senior Zoology Division for a project that explored how weight affected the flight dynamics of a dinosaur known as the quetzalcoatlus.
Welch, now a freshman at Nordhoff High School, started researching her science experiment under the tutelage of OVS Lower Campus science teacher Matthew Inman, who continued to offer support and guidance even after she left OVS.
Inman did the same for Slosberg over the last five months, helping her navigate around problems and dilemmas science experiments can present.
The Lower Campus science program has become a prolific producer of talent on Inman’s watch, having generated over the years two first place state science fair winners, a second place finisher, two fourth place winners, and two honorable mentions
Going into this week, Inman said he believed Slosberg’s project stood an excellent chance of placing, given its attention to detail and her passion for the subject matter.
When her name was announced, Inman said he could not have been prouder.
“I was thinking about the odds – it is virtually impossible to earn recognition at that level,” said Inman, noting the number of middle school students in California, the number that made it out of their school science fairs to participate at the county level, and the tiny chance of being good enough to stand out against a thousand first-place recipients from around the state.
“The projects at the state science fair were literally, the best, of the best,” Inman added. “You had to be so proud of her, the science program and the school.”
For five months, Slosberg tended to her science experiment every other day, constantly making improvements, and tirelessly working on her board and presentation.
She hit on the experiment after making mealworm cookies at last year’s school science fair project, and then learning from family friends about a groundbreaking Stanford University study in which researchers discovered that mealworms could break down Styrofoam and plastics.
Slosberg reached out to one of the Stanford researchers to obtain the study and ask questions about the research, before embarking on her own exploration on the subject.
She has since spent so much time on the project that she now considers the time-consuming mealworms her best friends.
With her best friends by her side, she took first place at the OVS science fair, and last month took top honors at the Ventura County Science Fair, earning her a spot at the state science fair.
Consumed by joy, Slosberg started the application process that night for the state science fair, staying up until eleven, and started making the endless amount of improvements to her science project that did not cease until the day she went to state.
When the winners were announced Tuesday, Slosberg hugged one of the fair’s staff members, a complete stranger to her. Slosberg’s mother burst into tears.
“She learned that good science takes time,” said her mother Myr Slosberg, who teaches at OVS and has a degree in environmental education and environmental biology. ”It’s not just what you know, but learning you need to communicate what you know, and that the reward should be the experience —not the prize.”
This isn’t the end of the experience for Bella Slosberg
With her win at the state level, she is now eligible to apply for the National Science Fair. Out of hundreds of applicants, only 30 are chosen, and are awarded a full-paid trip to Washington D.C. and the chance to present their work in front of hundreds in the White House.
But whether she continues on at the national level or not, Slosberg already has accomplished what most young scientists can only dream of.
“Bella always does her best, and it is exciting for her to have earned this truly exceptional award,” Inman said. “OVS provides the opportunity for people pursue their dreams in almost any realm.”Share