Area students to attend science fair Feb. 5-6

A NASA representative will give presentations about the space agency’s Mars rover Curiosity as Western Carolina University hosts area elementary, middle and high school students for the Western Regional Science Fair on Tuesday, Feb. 5, and Wednesday, Feb. 6.

Lyle Tavernier, a NASA digital learning network specialist, will speak to the students live from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, Calif., on both days of the fair. In keeping with the fair’s theme of “Roving on Mars with Curiosity,” Tavernier will talk about the rover’s mission to the red planet and what scientists and engineers hope to do with the knowledge gained from the mission.

A spacecraft carrying Curiosity launched in November 2011 and the 10-foot-long rover landed on Mars in August. The overarching scientific goal of the mission is to assess whether the landing area has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life.

Science projects submitted by students in the elementary division (grades 3-5) will be showcased at Ramsey Regional Activity Center on Feb. 5, and the junior and senior divisions (grades 6-12) will be featured on Feb. 6.

Students attending the science fair from North Carolina’s 16 westernmost counties, including those vying for awards and those who attend to observe and learn, will have an opportunity to question Tavernier about Curiosity’s mission, said Kefyn Catley, director of the fair and professor in WCU’s Department of Biology.

“The science fair isn’t just for those students competing in the fair,” Catley said. “We encourage teachers to bring their classes to benefit from the presentation and interact with the speaker, who will take questions presubmitted from students in attendance.”

Also, students who are not competing can observe the science projects on display to get ideas about how to improve their own projects for entry into upcoming science fairs, Catley said. “We often have winners from our region who compete in the state fair and do very well,” he said. “There is a great deal of scholarship money available for winners at the state level.”

Information about the process of submitting questions for Tavernier and more general information about the Western Regional Science Fair are available by emailing, visiting the website or by calling 828-227-3688.

This artist’s rendering provided by NASA shows the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars.

This artist’s rendering provided by NASA shows the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars.