The Hamilton Invitational Science and Engineering Fair has produced a number of state science fair winners over its 12-year history.
This year's fair includes experiments that look at everything from which chemicals may produce an immune response in HIV cells to the effects of acid on DNA cloning to flying disc aerodynamics.
For the first time, this year's fair, open to the public 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Hamilton High School, includes students representing every school in the Chandler Unified School District, said Teresa Clark, director of the event since its inception.
Two students with science boards - which students use to show off their hypothesis, research methods and experiment results - at the fair have not only won first place in previous Hamilton Invitationals, but have won first place in state.
Hamilton senior Shemonti Hasan, 17, expanded on the chemical research she did last year in creating this year's experiment, "Eliciting IL-2 production to inhibit HIV replication."
Working out of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, Hasan is trying to create an immune response in HIV cells, known as interleukin 2 (IL-2). Her research is funded not only by ASU but by a grant she received from the Chandler Education Foundation and part of a grant her teacher, Clark, received from Salt River Project for the school's honors research class.
The idea behind Hasan's experiment is to find an alternative to a vaccine for HIV.
One reason a vaccine has not been created is the way HIV mutates, Hasan said. In addition, even if one did exist, vaccines need to be kept at cold temperatures. That would be difficult for delivery in countries of Africa, which has been hit hard by the disease.
She hopes to keep expanding her work. She would eventually like to try the experiment with human blood cells extracted from HIV patients. She would need to not only find the right chemical that creates the desired immune response, but a chemical that can be delivered safely into the human body.
"HIV, when it infects CD4 cells (in human blood), it inhibits those cells from producing IL-2 (interleukin 2), the immune response needed which tells the other cells, 'There's a virus in me, help me,'" she said this week at Hamilton High.
Scott Boisvert, a junior at Chandler's Basha High School, is no stranger to the Hamilton Invitational either. He's won first place in the microbiology category the past two years. He's also gone on to represent Arizona in the Intel Invitational Science and Engineering Fair.
This year, he's continuing his three years of work on batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a fungus that's attacking amphibians.
"This fungus is causing massive extinctions of amphibians in the world. It's actually the largest extinction since the dinosaurs," he said.
Working with Elizabeth Davidson in the life sciences department at ASU, Boisvert has created his own experiments on the fungus. In the past, he has looked at how the fungus grows in different environments and how local chemicals might affect growth, such as pesticides and herbicides used by golf courses in their water hazards.
This year, Boisvert is examining the fungus' movement.
"The fungus swims around lakes and infects frogs by penetrating into the skin. I was trying to find things to alter their movement," he said.
His work has taken him to "all corners of Arizona," pulling water samples from every watershed in the state.
He spends about 10 hours a week at the ASU lab, he said.
His work has paid off - literally. During last year's Intel Invitational Science and Engineering Fair in Reno, Nev., he earned scholarship money toward college.
Besides his newest experiment, he's working on a paper about last year's experiment that he hopes to see published.
"Ultimately, I'm trying to find what in the environment is effective on the fungus," he said, noting that some places in the world have seen a larger extinction of species than others. If he can find a way to re-create those environments that don't see as many issues with the fungus, it may be possible to slow or stop the fungus in other, more susceptible areas.
"If you use strong pesticides to kill it, you'll ultimately kill the environment with it," he said.
Clark said as a teacher she tries to encourage students to find an experiment they feel connected to. Then she tries to teach them to think about the implications of their research outside the classroom.
"That will take it to the next level," she said. "If the implications are significant, it's going to be a successful project."