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Sherando brothers share a passion for science

Ben Gustafson, 15, left, and his brother Jon,17, right, stand by their science fair projects that won first place during the Frederick County Public Schools Science Fair. Ben's project focused on water salinity and Jon's dealt with uses of shredded tires. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Ryan Cornell

STEPHENS CITY -- For the Gustafson brothers, intelligence runs in their genes.

Sherando students Jon and Ben Gustafson won first place in each of their categories at the Frederick County Public Schools Science Fair on Feb. 4 and will be competing at the Regional Science Fair in Harrisonburg next month.

Jon, 17, advanced to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix last year, where he competed against students from 72 countries. Catherine Pollack and he were the only students from Sherando to compete at the international fair.

This year, his project, "Recycled micronized rubber powder filler decreases the abrasion of virgin nitrile rubber," used powder particles from old tires that were cryogenically frozen and shattered to form new sheets of rubber.

He said he wanted to find a way to use old tires other than the traditional non-environmental methods of disposing them: burning them or dumping them in the landfill.

After obtaining the powder of the tires from Lehigh Technologies, he used lab equipment at the Xerium Technologies plant in Middletown to conduct his experiment and test the nitrile rubber. What he found was that by adding micronized rubber powder, he could actually decrease the amount of nitrile rubber.

"For the most part, I think they [the judges] were impressed and thought I did a thorough job," he said.

Titled "The effect of water salinity on the viability of Daphnia Magna," Ben's project measured how the amount of salt in water affected the health of a freshwater water flea.

Ben, 15, said the idea for project came from thinking about how pollutants such as the de-icing salt used on roads leak into the water.

He ordered the daphnia magna online and placed 10 organisms in each cup with varying salinities.

"As the salinity increased, the viability of the daphnia decreased; they were weaker," he said. "Where there's more salinity, it killed off daphnia more quickly."

Jon said their "science-oriented" parents -- their dad is an engineer and their mom is a nurse -- place a big emphasis on them trying their best at whatever they do.

After high school, Jon plans to either become a surgeon or immunologist. Ben said he's considering a career in business.

Susan Saylor and Craig Bodenschatz, science teachers at Sherando, taught the two brothers in chemistry and biology, respectively.

Although the teachers had given them packets on the first day of school with information on the science fair, Jon had already spent much of the summer thinking about what his idea was going to be.

"He hit it with both feet running," Saylor said.

Bodenschatz said Sherando has sent a student to the international fair for five consecutive years and has had one student place there.

"We've been really fortunate to have kids here who enjoy the competition and sciences," he said.

Saylor and Bodenschatz have taught for nearly two decades now and said they recognize how special the two brothers are.

"It's not your regular "Vitamin C" projects," Saylor said. "It's out of the box. It's problems in everyday society and they're trying to figure out ways to solve them."

Jon is also on the school's academic team, and "crushes the chemistry category," according to Saylor. Ben is involved with the academic team, debate team and a children's theater production of "The Princess and the Pea."

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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