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Local science fair project has shot at London prize


Odessa teenager Kira Powell is surrounded by farms and fascinated by science, so she wanted to do an experiment involving agriculture.

The 16-year-old’s project has brought her state and national recognition as well as $20,000 in scholarships and prizes. She’s also earned a spot in an international science fair in London this summer, where she’ll present her two-year science project about increasing wheat yields.

“It started sophomore year,” said Powell, now a junior at Odessa Middle and High School. “I came across the chemical – sodium polyacrelate – and started researching it. I realized the chemical was very absorbent (when used in soil) and thought that might be good for dry-land farmers.”

A farmer in Odessa – about 74 miles southwest of Spokane – let her use some of his land to test her theory. She planted three areas, a fifth of an acre each. In two of them she used the sodium polyacrelate, and the third was a control with none.

“I tested them over the growing season,” Powell said. “The 5 percent application worked the best, yielding 27 percent more wheat.”

The sodium polyacrelate holds water in the soil, she said.

Powell presented her project at the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in San Diego. Powell won first prize, a $12,000 scholarship and the trip to London, said Suellen White, the district’s superintendent. This past week, Powell’s project won the top prize in the plant science category and $8,000 in prizes at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.

The teen’s success is no surprise to her principal, Ken Schutz. Powell, with a 3.962 grade-point average, has “always been a model student, model kid,” Schutz said. “Where most kids would quit if things didn’t go well, she has the perseverance to move on.”

Powell, a middle child with two brothers, is also an athlete. She plays basketball, volleyball and golf. Today she’s defending her title as State 1B Golf champion.

While she’s focused on her game for now, the teen is looking forward to London.

“It’s going to be the highlight of my summer,” Powell said. “Sometimes the best part of going to these competitions is seeing other people’s ideas. It’s really inspiring to see how young people can make a difference.”

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