WSU Ritchey Science Fair Finalist Heads to Nationals

OGDEN, Utah – For 60 years, Weber State University has hosted the Ritchey Science & Engineering Fair to support science education in public schools; one recent winner has been chosen to compete in a national science fair Oct. 19-23 in Washington, D.C.

                Gary Zhan

Gary Zhan, a ninth-grader from Logan, Utah, was selected as one of 30 finalists, from 80,000 participants nationwide, for the 2018 Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) competition, where he will be eligible for additional research funding. Gary is Utah’s only finalist. In addition to showcasing his project for the public, Gary will meet with government officials and STEM professionals.

For his project, Gary wanted to find a solution to a common problem — food allergies, which plague approximately one in every 22 Americans. His friend is allergic to synthetic dyes, especially Blue 1, used in food, drinks, paper, toys and even clothes. Gary knew about an alternative, bacteria-produced indigoidine, which is also bright blue and is a natural product with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.

“Indigoidine is still too expensive for industrial applications,” Gary explained. So he set out to make the process more efficient and thus lower the cost of the natural dye, making it a viable alternative to Blue 1.

By manipulating the trigger that tells the bacteria to create the dye, he was able to boost the bacteria’s dye production by 28 percent.

Gary’s project catapulted him through his own school’s science fair at Bear River Charter School and into WSU’s Ritchey Science & Engineering Fair. Named in honor of Harold W. and Helen M. Ritchey, the fair is a 60-year tradition at WSU. Harold Ritchey was the chair of the board at Thiokol Chemical Company (now Orbital ATK) 1949-1977. He invented detergent motor oil and owned patents in rocket propulsion, astronautics, petroleum and nuclear science.

                Ritchey Science Fair circa 1958

Beginning in the mid-’50s, Weber State’s science fair served local school districts and awarded prizes in applied physical, biological, physical and earth sciences.

The fair now serves the largest geographic area in Northern Utah and has junior and senior competitions for grades six to eight and nine to 12, respectively. The March 2018 fair hosted around 400 students.

The Ritchey fair gives students an opportunity to conduct their own research and teaches them to enjoy the process of scientific discovery, said Sheri Trbovich, a community volunteer who has organized the event for many years.

“The most dedicated students develop valuable research skills they can carry through high school and their university experience, allowing them to participate in graduate-level research as undergrads,” she said. “We hope all participants gain a lifelong love of the joy of discovery through science and engineering.”

 Another benefit of the fair, according to zoology professor and Ritchey fair director John Mull, is the community gets a venue where junior high and high school students experience the challenge of competing in an academic event and receive recognition for their work.

          Kaylee Jo Hubner, Ritchey Science Fair, 2018

Mull enjoys the level of enthusiasm students show for their projects and hopes all participants take away a sense of accomplishment and encouragement to pursue their questions and scientific exploration.

Mull knows from years of volunteering that one of the keys to students having a good experience is the interactions they have with judges and other adults interested in their projects. This year, nearly 200 volunteers helped the event run smoothly.

“The fair provides an opportunity for our own students to participate in judging projects, which is a learning opportunity as well.” Mull said.

Those interested in volunteering can contact John Mull, or Matt Nicholaou, This year’s fair will be held March 21-22, 2019, at the Dee Events Center.

For photos, visit the following link.

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John Mull, Ritchey Science & Engineering Fair director

801-626-6173 •


Ivonne Dabb, Office of Marketing & Communications
801-626-79439 •