Dana Middle Schoolers sweep nationwide science competition

Four people pose for a photo in front of Dana Middle School while holding certificates.

Middle school winners of the 2021 Herndon Memorial Science Competition. Left to right: First place winner Sabrina Nitsos, teacher Mr. Andy de Serière, second place winner Zain Iqbal-Khan, and third place winner Alexander Zakrzewski.

For the first time in Dana Middle School history, three Dana Dolphins swept the top three finalist places at the Robert H. Herndon Memorial Science Competition. The winners were announced May 27, 2021 via a virtual event.

The middle school winners of the 2021 Herndon Memorial Science Competition were:

  • First place: Sabrina Nitsos (7th grade) for the essay “Space Satellite to Clean Up Space Debris”
  • Second place: Zain Iqbal-Khan (8th grade) for the essay on “How the James Webb Space Telescope Will Revolutionize Future Space Exploration”
  • Third place: Alexander Zakrzewski (7th grade) for the essay “Ion Propulsion”

In 1977, The Aerospace Corporation established the Robert H. Herndon Memorial Science Competition. This event provides middle and high school students in Los Angeles County an opportunity to participate annually in the El Segundo portion of the essay and/or science experiment competition. In 2000, a Washington-area Herndon Memorial Science Competition was established and is also held annually.

This year, the East Coast and West Coast competitions combined, and challenged students to submit science essays that capture the competition’s theme of “Re-Imagining the Future of Space.” Following specific guidelines, students submitted essays that recognized the important role that space plays in shaping the way we experience the world, and how engineering and science can shape space exploration in a new way.

At Wiseburn, over 120 Dana Dolphins participated, across three STEM teams: Cetacean Bots, JWST, and Herndon. Starting February 2021, students met weekly with Dana teacher Andy de Serière and Dr. Michael Johnson, former Vice President for DIRECTV and several other TV companies, to discuss the judging criteria and grading rubric to target essential components.

Submissions were judged by a slate of technical professionals from various engineering fields. In addition to checking that submissions meet all the basic rules, judges evaluated essays on:

  1. Initial Planning (15 points)
  2. Level of Effort/Organization (5 points)
  3. Quality of work (20 points)
  4. Presentation (20 points)

Congratulations to the winners and to all participants for their hard work!