MSU Billings science fair winner takes first at nationals

MSU BILLINGS NEWS—At last week’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Hailey Smith experienced the thrill of having her scientific endeavors recognized on the international stage. Smith, a junior at Billings Senior High School, brought home a National Air Force first place win in engineering mechanics. The award included a plaque, medal and $750 cash prize.

Preparing for the national fair in Pittsburgh, Penn., which took place May 13-19, was no easy task. Smith was allowed only minimal changes to the project that garnered her a spot in the fair when she competed in the MSU Billings and Billings Clinic Science Expo last March. Smith manipulated the shape of an airplane’s wing to decrease drag. She says with less drag, an airplane uses less fuel. To test her theory, she built her own scaled-down wind tunnel.

“I had to reengineer the entire wind tunnel on paper to make it exactly the same as the wind tunnel I’d build,” Smith said, explaining the only real challenge she encountered in preparing her final project. Laughing, she said, “That was the hardest part aside from learning how to pack – I don’t know how to pack for a week-long trip.”

Smith faced fierce competition in Pittsburg, with students from all over the world vying for a few coveted awards and resume bragging rights. She recalls competing against roughly 80 students in what she says was a very popular category – engineering mechanics.

During the judging process, four organizations were recognizing Smith as a finalist for their awards, including one from NASA. But she received complements throughout the fair.

“I had an astrophysicist – when I was doing my project setup – who told me my project was brilliant,” she said. “It was pretty intense.”

Smith said she wasn’t fully expecting her name to be called during the award ceremony. But she believes the memory of that moment will stay with her forever.

“It’s very satisfying when you realize ‘oh, I actually did it,’” she said.

Now that she’s reached this milestone, Smith is looking to the future. She’ll take her ACT this summer and begin applying to the Naval and Air Force Academies. Before she enters senior year, she plans to take NASA up on the offer of a summer internship.

Smith was sponsored to attend the international fair by the MSU Billings Foundation. She thanks Science Expo organizer Vonda Lancaster for preparing her for the trip, and her Senior High science instructor Craig Beals for his encouragement. But she was most impressed with the other students she encountered at the fair.

“Going to this science fair restored all of my faith in my generation – kids who wanted to cure AIDS, cure cancer, cure paralysis,” said Smith. “The stuff that kids were making was not the substance of greed; it was not something they would benefit from, but something the world would benefit from. It was really humbling.”


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