Oakwood senior Nikhita Gopisetty took home a blue ribbon for her science project.

Oakwood senior Nikhita Gopisetty was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 5 years old.

It was for that reason the now 17-year-old wanted to delve into the causes of the disease for her science project entry in the 2019 South Valley Science and Engineering Fair, held Jan. 17 at Britton Middle School.

For her project, “Effects of SOX9 on Beta cell function dedifferentiation: A potential cause of diabetes,” she tested different genes in rodent cells in a lab at the University of California at San Francisco.

“An overexpression of SOX9 results in a dedifferentiation in beta cells,” explained Gopisetty, who sought out an internship at UCSF among other colleges to get into a lab. “Therefore, an increase in SOX9 could be a cause of diabetes (because) of a decrease in insulin production.”

Gopisetty, who won the blue ribbon in the biology category, was one of more than 100 entrants in the annual science fair that included local students from both private and public middle and high schools such as Oakwood, Britton and Martin Murphy.

“There were some really impressive projects; some that were even over my head,” said Anaerobe Systems President Steve Cox, who is an engineer by trade. “A lot of what they did is relevant to the real world.”

Cox and five of his Morgan Hill-based company’s engineers and microbiologists were on the judging panel for Thursday’s competition. Cox, also a member of the advisory steering committee, said they have also offered their facilities to students during the experiment process and will do so again next year.

Oakwood School eighth grader Gavin Tacklind wanted to find out if height mattered in running speed, so he enlisted a bunch of his friends, varying in height from 4-foot-11 to 6 foot, to run the same distance (40 feet) and logged their times.

Oakwood School eighth grader Gavin Tacklind tested if height impacted speed.

“My hypothesis was that height will not matter and that athleticism will have a larger effect,” said Tacklind, who was a bit surprised with what he found out. “I was wrong. When you are taller, you have longer strides and it takes less steps to finish.”

Tacklind—who shared that his grandfather was one of only 100 scientists to work on the disc drive—concluded that not only height, but age and weight were factors in speed.

Senior Renee Bostak programmed her own portable heart rate monitor app for smartphones for her science project. Bostak, who earned third place in the engineering category, said it cost only $50 to create which was a goal of hers to keep the cost down and make it affordable.

“The overall process took two months,” said Bostak, a student at Oakwood School. “It took a lot of programming.”

Sophomore Kate Jackson, 15, placed third for her chemistry project titled “The Effect of Limestone in Removing Excess Fluoride in Water.” She used gravel and powder limestone in three different fluoride concentrations.

“The gravel limestone didn’t change much, but the powder limestone decreased the flouride to safe levels of 1.5mg/liter,” Jackson said. “I was surprised the results were so different. I figured it would be both made a difference or neither would make a difference.”

Freshman Danya Balagopal, 14, entered the SVSEF for the third year in a row; this time with her project “The Effect of Bio-coagulants on the Adsorption of Waste Oil and the Reduction of Turbidity from Oil-Produced Waters.” She used radish seeds, chickpeas and cleaning nuts to reduce oil waste and turbidity. For her efforts, she took home a first-place blue ribbon in the chemistry category.

“They all worked really well,” said Balagopal, who was inspired by an article she had read that stated eight billion gallons of oil is produced each year resulting in 130 billion gallons of wastewater. “I was happy with the results.”

Any of the participants can tweak their projects and enter into the Santa Clara County Science and Engineering Fair in March at the Santa Jose McEnery Convention Center. The top winners of the Synopsys Championship go on to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair and/or California State Science and Engineering Fair.

2019 South Valley Science and Engineering Fair Winners List

Middle School

Behavioral Science

First: Rachel Fox, Martin Murphy Middle School, 7th grade, “Does Electronic Usage Before Bed Affect Sleep?”

Second: Francisco Flores and Alegria Serrano, 8th grade, Britton Middle School, “Neurology”

Third: Cadence Murcray, Oakwood School, 8th grade, “Power of Suggestion”


First: Ella King and Aiden Lopez, Morgan Hill Charter School, 6th grade, “Comparison  Between Bacteria and Yeast of Home Grown and Store Bought Kombuchast”

Second: Julie Obuchi, Oakwood School, 8th grade, “How Does Eucalyptus Oil Affect  Plants?”

Third: Ben Hayes, Britton Middle School, 8th grade, “Creek Stew”  


First: Rohan Wilmot, Oakwood School, 6th grade, “The Effects of Various Substances on the Rate of Evaporation of Water”

Second: Jillian Bogosian, Oakwood School, 8th grade, “How Yeast makes a Difference”

Third: Sascha Manalili, Oakwood School, 8th, “Determining which common drinking  water is most beneficial to your health based on pH level”

Engineering/Math/Computer Science

First: Ria Deshpande and Lexxa D’Amico, Britton Middle School, 8th grade, “Hands Free Device”    

Second: Sebastian Buergi, Oakwood School, 8th grade, “AI for 21 Matches Game”

Third: Andrew Nguyen, Martin Murphy Middle School, 7th grade, “EAP Prosthetic Hand”


First: Reese Byers, Britton Middle School, 8th grade, “French Fire”

Second: Ashlee Fiorito, Oakwood School, 8th grade, “What’s Dragging You Down?”

High School

Behavioral Science

First: Lili Jaquet, Oakwood School, 10th grade, “Working Harder is Sometimes Smarter –  The Effect of Font Style on Memory”

Second: Alie Fuller, Oakwood School, 10th grade, “Investigating the Vacancy Valley, Does It Exist?”


First: Nikhita Gopisetty, Oakwood School, 12th grade, “Effects of SOX9 on Beta Cell  Function”

Second: Eshika Jain, Oakwood School, 11th grade, “Eco-Friendly Plastic Disposal”

Third: Kate Marcotullio, Oakwood School, 10th grade, “Effects of Music on Heart Rate”


First: Danya Balagopol, Oakwood School, 9th grade, “Effects of Biocoagulants on the   Adsorption of Waste Oil and the Reduction of Turbidity from Oil-Produced Waters”

Second: Lydia Sattler, Oakwood School, 10th grade, “A Comparative Analysis of South Bay Drinking Water”

Third (tie): Shria Bulusu, Oakwood School, 11th grade, “The Effect of UV Light on Yeast Colony Growth”

Kate Jackson, Oakwood School, 10th grade, “ The Effect of Limestone on Fluoride Concentration in Water”

Engineering/Math/Computer Science

First: Robert Walker, Oakwood School, 11th grade, “Run Times for Maze Solving”

Second: Nolan Kornelson, Oakwood School, 11th grade, “Measuring Encryption Speed Based on Word Size”

Third: Renee Bostak, Oakwood School, 12th grade, “Mobile Heart Rate Sensor”


First: Madina Turaeva, Oakwood School, 10th grade, “Absorption of Light Energy by Different  Colors”

Second: Annie Rickard, Oakwood School, 11th grade, “The Effect of Shape on Fluid Dynamics”

Third: Chandler Buciak, Oakwood School, 11th grade, “Cell Phone Radiation: While using a cell  phone, which activities expose you to more radiation?”

Special Awards

Frank Crosby Memorial Teacher Award

Eileen Resnick, Martin Murphy Middle School

David Fritts Memorial Innovation Award

Melina Kai Kwarcinski, Martin Murphy Middle School, 8th grade, “The Two Piece One-Piece”

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