Sean Weber recalls his first science project as a third-grader.
“I think that’s when I first started to think about molecules,” he says.
In five short years, Weber’s ideas are hitting the national stage.
His newest project, “Strength of Mussel Byssal Threads vs. Wave Action,” earned the Sequim Middle School student a chance to win $25,000 in Washington, D.C.
Weber was named a finalist in the Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) competition in late August.
He is the lone student out of five semifinalists from Washington to qualify for the finals.
Weber heads to the East Coast from Sept. 26-Oct. 2, where for three of those days he’ll be either presenting or working on engineering projects with other finalists, with a chance at the grand prize.
“It’s an honor for me to go to D.C.,” Weber says, taking a break from one of his classes at SMS.
MASTERS was created to reward and inspire sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students to continue their studies in math and science throughout high school. Weber found his calling early on, inspired by a love of nature and nurtured by his parents, Carl and Asma.
“I’ve always been interested in marine biology,” Weber says. “(And) I have a great respect for nature.”
That’s why it was a fine fit when Weber found his topic of study: mussels and their byssal threads. Weber wanted to know if the byssal threads that help mussels stick to rocks have adapted, what the individual strength of those threads are, what makes them so strong and what applications scientists may have apart from the rocky seashores.
The threads, he says, have a “unique stretchy aspect but a solid core” and can self-repair, and may have applications for doctors replacing tendons or for household items such as rubber bands. Threads can stretch out to 160 percent of their length while still retaining five times the strength of human Achille’s tendons, according to biology professor Laura Brentner of Clark University.
His studies led Weber to the Battelle Marine Science Lab at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in
Sequim, where he got to watch their scientists test his byssal thread samples.
Weber says he received great help from Deb Beckett, SMS teacher and science club advisor, and Mary Omberg, marine biologist and mentor, along with his parents.
The Broadcom MASTERS contest’s 30 middle school finalists — 14 girls and 16 boys — come from 17 states and represent 30 schools. Finalists win an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete for more than $60,000 in cash prizes.
Weber says the first day of the contest (Saturday, Sept. 28) is for a grand presentation of between five and eight minutes in length, for judges and a public audience.
“I’m pretty comfortable speaking in front of people,” Weber says.
Days two and three (Sept. 29-30) are group challenges, testing skills of the youths with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) concepts.
The contest winner is named on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
Sequim student Katherine Landoni was a finalist in the 2011 competition.
Three hundred semifinalists were selected from more than 1,695 applicants after evaluation and judging conducted by scientists, engineers and educators. Applicants qualify to enter the Broadcom MASTERS by placing in the top 10 percent of the participants at affiliated science fairs and winning the nomination.
See more information at www.societyforscience.org/MASTERS.
Other Sequim students who were invited and completed entries for the Broadcom MASTERS competition were Skyler Hallinan and Molly Crecilius. Both won first place in their categories at last spring’s Washington State Science and Engineering Fair as eighth-graders.
Read about other Sequim students excelling in science contests HERE.