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Brentwood School Senior Wins Big at L.A. County Science Fair

Almost single-handedly, student and budding microbiologist David Zimmerman raises funds to help save the financially-strapped science fair, but it still needs a lot of attention.

As students on the Westside (and for most of Los Angeles) relaxed and enjoyed their first day of spring break, Brentwood School senior David Zimmerman was running away with the competition at the L.A. County Science Fair March 21 through 23 in Pasadena.

During the awards ceremony, Zimmeran learned he was the fair’s top senior division winner for his microbiology project, "Site-Directed Mutagenesis of the Metal-Reducing Bacteria Shewanella oneidensis MR-1: a Novel Strategy for Genetic Engineering in Recalcitrant Microorganisms." He also won a corporate sponsor award took the coveted sweepstakes prize, the highest possible honor he could earn at the L.A. County Science Fair.

According to Brentwood School's physics teacher for the Upper School, Judy Adler, the president of the L.A. County Science Fair, Dean Gilbert, also put in a personal word about Zimmerman, thanking him for all of the work he did to help raise funds for the financially-ailing science fair.

Along with the sweepstakes prize, Zimmerman is one of two students representing L.A. in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) May 15 through 17 in Phoenix, AZ.

"I have had a terrific experience with the science fair circuit over the years," Zimmerman said, who noted Mr. Kahn of Brentwood School's Middle Division was the first to encourage him to participate.

"With his support, I started building microbial fuel cells in eighth grade, which led directly to my present work in applied and environmental molecular biology," he said. "Although it has been frustrating at times, I was very honored (and not a little surprised) to receive the sweepstakes award this year and with it the opportunity to go to ISEF, which has been my ambition for quite a while. I am greatly indebted to the science faculty at Brentwood and to my research adviser at USC."

Adler said that, while dedicated to microbiology, Zimmerman has a love for all science and often would ask her if she could read various studies on physics-related topics.

"How he found time to read all of these papers was beyond me, but he did, and he loved sharing the information he learned with me, and anyone else who would listen," Adler said.

No more L.A. County Science Fair?

As for the science fair's financial situation, Zimmerman said it has been common knowledge to all involved that they have been struggling to make end's meet for the past several years. However, just how dire the circumstances were had not been made clear until he received an e-mail from Gilbert addressed to all participants to the effect that there would be no fair if they could not scrape together $70,000.

"I had just recently given a talk about the importance of science education to society, and so I quickly made a follow-up announcement to ask for contributions," Zimmerman said, thanking Mary Sidell, associate director of institutional advancement at Brentwood School and fellow senior Andrew Glantz, who responded and were able to raise "quite a lot of cash in a pinch."

"Yet, as it stands, there are no plans for a fair next year or ever again, as the coffers are empty and they have nothing and no one to fall back on," Zimmerman added.

The fair is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and receives only in-kind support from the county and they rely almost exclusively on private donations to get by.

"What they really need is an endowment large enough to generate $100,000 in interest each year to keep the fair going in perpetuity," Zimmerman said "However, until they can secure the necessary funds, all bets are off."

For more information on getting involved with the L.A County Science Fair, visit its website.

For more information on ISEF, visit its website.

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