Sophie and her project 2020

Sophie Hoye Pacholek was one of two Calgarians chosen to represent Team Canada at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in California this year. Since the pandemic prompted the event's cancellation, CYSF caught up with Sophie to learn more about her fantastic project.

CYSF: Congratulations on being chosen for the International Science and Engineering Fair! Can you tell us a little about your project?

Sophie: Thank you! I was delighted to be selected for Team Canada ISEF 2020. My official project title is Biomimetic wings for enhanced aircraft performance, but I usually call it something a little bit catchier like From Sea and Sky. (Check it out on the Youth Science Canada Online STEM Fair here.)

My project created five wing designs for small unmanned aircraft (more commonly known as drones) based on some characteristics of bird wings and whale fins. For example, one of my wing designs is based on adapting a bird-based airfoil (cross-section of the wing), another wing has “bumps” on the front just like a humpback whales’, and yet another design has both.

CYSF: How did you come up with the idea for your project?

Sophie: I’ve always been really interested in flight, partly because even the leading experts in the field are still trying to learn about how the physics of flight actually works. NASA, for example, is working on new designs for planes right now that look very different from a commercial aircraft, so I thought: why can’t I design a plane too?

CYSF: What do you like best about this project compared to others you have done?

Sophie: I really like how many skills I’ve learned from doing this project. From designing something using new software and learning how to 3D print, to learning (the basics, at least) of how to operate a low-speed wind tunnel, I’ve had to tackle quite a few learning curves. These new skills will always be in my toolbox.

CYSF: Do you have any advice for kids developing their project to enter into ISEF next year?

Sophie: Know. Your. Science. The most important part of any science fair project isn’t if your hypothesis was correct, or if your invention solved the problem it was supposed to (although those can be nice bonuses!). What matters most is how well you used the scientific method, and (for more complex projects especially) how well you can explain your project to other people around you.

A good strategy is to think: if I can explain it to my neighbour so they can understand what I did, then any judge probably can too. For ISEF selection specifically, in the interview it’s really important not to get flustered – you can get asked the strangest or most specific questions, and you have to be prepared to think on the spot. That said, this is a useful skill for any judging process.

Check out more pictures of Sophie’s project and a video featuring the other Team Canada representative, Shounak Ray, on the CYSF Facebook page. Interested in supporting CYSF 2021? Donate today.