Justin Friedrich, at left, and Matt Dietz were just two of the three students who found first-place success during the recent science fair. Not shown is Luke Dietz.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Justin Friedrich, at left, and Matt Dietz were just two of the three students who found first-place success during the recent science fair. Not shown is Luke Dietz. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Matt Dietz had to "cell" his project and Justin Friedrich had to share capacity in order to get to the fair. Luke Dietz's project was a solar panel that produces heat and is made out of recycled materials.

"My project was 'The Effect of Cell Density and Growth Supplements in Mesenchymal Stem Cell Attachment and Growth on an Artificial Matrix,'" said Matt. The Chatfield student explained exactly what that is and why it's important to the medical community. It was an issue he studied and explained as his 2014 science fair project and one that earned him a first place finish.

He was one of three senior high first-place science fair winners belonging in Nora Gathje's science classes.

"I got the idea because I wanted to go into a career in regenerative medicine, working with stem cells," Matt related. "I've been a part of the Mayo High School Mentorship Program through school the first semester. I learned a lot about this through the mentorship and I knew I'd learn a lot from the get-go."

He added that he wanted to take the information to the science fair because he had been putting in a lot of work at Mayo and there was no point in just doing it if nobody would see it. He added that he was also motivated knowing that this is the final year he can compete at the senior high science fair and wanted to bring his best project possible.

According to a synopsis of his project, the process "involves harvesting human adult stem cells and growing them on an artificial matrix made out of materials similar in composition to dissolvable sutures."

The project also explained how this very new technology allows a patient's own cells to be grown briefly in the laboratory and then transplanted to damaged areas of the body to speed healing and recovery.

Matt also provided, "Specifically, these stem cells are used to create living bandages to speed the healing of anal fistulas in Crohn's patients. The project focused on whether the stem cells settled and reproduced on the artificial matrix and how long the process took. In addition, these cells were shown to begin producing their own collagen to replace the artificial matrix. Ultimately, this therapy could be used to repair damage to tendons and ligaments."

Matt admitted he was "pretty confident" he could describe everything included in that synopsis while presenting the project to the judges, but he did have to check up on the names of certain dyes used for the research.

"I was pretty confident I would be one of the top placers," he said. "There was a lot of work in this project and it's not something that was very common among high schoolers. This project represents the possibilities for the uses of stem cells to heal wounds of all varieties."

Justin Friedrich's project came about because he has been aware of fitness levels as a cross-country and track athlete.

"I wanted to know how a sport stacked up since we have good athletics here and have a good group of athletes to test my project on," said Friedrich about his project, "Cardiovascular Conditioning Related to Activity," which also garnered a first place award at the science fair.

Its synopsis related that Friedrich "tested physical conditioning through overall fitness measures, heart rate and vital lung capacity as it related to both male and female single and double season athletes."

This year, Friedrich chose to fuse his academic pursuits with his passion for athletics. As a lifelong cross-country runner, the idea for the project was of high interest to him. Many of his friends were on the State Champion Class AA Chatfield football team this fall. The football players were no doubt in excellent physical condition, but Friedrich set out to once and for all determine scientifically whether the football players or cross-country runners were truly in better physical condition.

From there, his project blossomed to include both male and female athletes from several different sports, each with various physical demands on the body.

Luke Dietz explained his project was originally an assignment for one of his agriculture classes.

"When I told my dad I needed a project idea, he showed me this on the Internet. I though it would be a cool project," he added. "During this, my older brother, Matt, was working on his science fair project and Mrs. Gathje was talking to my dad about his project, when my dad brought my solar panel project up. She thought it would be great to take to the science fair, and the next day, helped me sign up."

Luke said during the project he learned it is possible to create a solar panel out of recycled materials and the hottest temperature difference - top output for bottom input - was during noon.

"A very unusual, but interesting thing I also learned while doing this project is that, using pop cans and sunlight, you can melt foam insulation," Luke added.

He felt nervous while presenting his project to the regional science fair judges. "Presenting to the judges was scary, but fun, at the same time," he said. "I was worried that I could mess up at any time, but it was also nice to hear the feedback from the judges. Most of them thought it was a very interesting project. It is very nerve-wracking waiting to hear if you won or not, but after they have called your name, you feel like you've accomplished a great thing."

All were proud of their accomplishments at the regional fair, as is Gathje. Matt Dietz is the first alternate to the International Science and Engineering Fair, which takes place in May.

Additionally, several of Gathje's other students placed at the science fair, including seventh grader Zach Roline, who won a certificate from the Air Force, a laptop bag, memory stick and ear buds.

Luke Dietz brought home the Bartlett W. Foster Award, a framed certificate and $50.

Eighth grader Bennett Gathje earned the Director's Creativity Award Trophy and a trip to the state fair with his first place junior high science paper. Seventh grader Seth Allen and eighth graders Austin Hines and Ben Ihrke earned second place for their paper.

Seventh grader Lincoln Salisbury got a state fair trip for his first-place junior high project and seventh graders Alejandro Adan, Seth Allen and eighth graders Bennett Gathje, Megan Hopp, Ben Ihrke, Nathen Meeker and Jacob Peterson were recognized for their second place science project wins.