Methodical scientists: Nearly 300 students from 24 counties compete at 30th Science Expo in Billings

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The first prize awarded Saturday at the 30th Science Expo in Billings went to first grader Lukas Rost for a project called “Chicken Food.”

Coming in at about knee-high, Rost, in a sport coat, collected his prize and shook hands before dismounting the Cisel Hall stage at Montana State University Billings.

“Well, there was two groups of chickens. Ten plus 10. Twenty chickens,” Rost said, afterward. “One group had scratch feed. The other group had chick feed.”

“Chick feed worked better,” he said of his conclusions. 

The young scientist from Baker traveled to Billings with his father, two of his cousins, one of their peers and his mother, Baker High School science teacher Linda Rost. 

The group cleaned up Saturday, taking home numerous awards. Linda Rost said she thinks in her 11 years of teaching she’s had 18 students qualify for national or international competitions. 

“When I was in high school I went to ISEF, to the international one,” she said. “That was just amazing for me, so I want as many kids as possible to experience it and get to do research.”

Her son Lukas was one of nearly 300 students from first through 12th grade from 24 counties that competed in the expo, held this year at Montana State University Billings.

About $19,000 in prizes and scholarships were given out to 90 students by the end of the expo. 

The top prize of the day, and a trip to the May International Science and Engineering Fair competition in Pittsburgh, went to Billings Senior junior Hailey Smith for a project on dimpled airfoils. 

In the past, the event has been hosted by the Billings Clinic. The Clinic continues to sponsor the event, but MSUB will host going forward, said MSUB Foundation President and CEO Bill Kennedy. 

While the youngest Rost in attendance kept things simple, the complex title of his cousin Bo Rost’s project drew laughter from his family as he recited it. 

Bo Rost studied “The Effects of Iron-Doped Apatite Nanoparticles on YodaSoda Phage Infection and Plaque Size in Mycobacterium.” 

There was no award for longest title, but Rost won nevertheless, taking home the top 12th grade score and second place for grades nine through 12. He also won an MSUB scholarship for his high scores. 

Fellow Baker senior Amber Durden took home third place in grades nine through 12, the “Research in Psychology Award” for grades one through 12, and also won an MSUB scholarship. 

Durden said her project studied the effect of subliminal messages on color preference. She played videos for participants, some of which flashed the color red or the word red. She then presented them with a choice of differently colored pens and recorded the color selected. People showed a preference based on the messaging, but not a statistically significant one, she said. 

Rachel Rost, a niece of Linda Rost, studied the effect of yeast on respiration in different sugars. Asked about the family’s affinity for science, she looked at her aunt. 

“Well, it’s her fault,” she said. 

Devin Solberg, a Baker junior, elaborated on why his teacher has had so much success with her students. What kind of teacher is she?

“A really smart one,” he said. “And a really caring one. If you have a question on anything, she’ll immediately answer it, and if she doesn’t know, she’ll help you with it.”

“She cares about every single one of her kids and she’s just an amazing teacher.” 

The group arrived in Billings on Friday and stayed busy between Science Expo activities, including finishing an escape room challenge in 38 minutes. 

The real value of the expo comes from the process of taking a project from start to finish, Linda Rost said. A textbook can only teach you so much, she added.

“I don’t think they know what science is until they do it,” she said. “Until they do what scientists do, they don’t really know what science is.” 

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