After digging around the web for a bit, I found Mary Masterson’s web sites that chronicle her life, with the Littrow Spectrograph project figuring prominently. (See my earlier post on High School Innovation for the initial story on Mary’s award-winning science fair project.)
She also has a more technically oriented site that describes her project in detail, including nice photos of her equipment in operation. The real beauty of her shining example is that Mary covers all the scientific bases from strong inquiry and innovation, disciplined and meticulous experimental techniques, strong communication and presentations skills (including web, paper, and poster publication), all the way to strong participation in the broader scientific community to learn from others at world-class institutions and share her ideas with mentors and peers.
One of the things I really love about Mary’s project is how she was able to assemble a first-rate solidly designed and constructed bit of scientific equipment for under $300. At first glance, the whole assembly looks like a bit of expensive commercial-grade laboratory equipment, but the reality is that Mary found many of these parts to be readily available in surplus equipment shops. A couple of used camera lenses, a pre-owned CCD camera and a laser were the big tickets that were all attached to some custom-machined base and mounting hardware. So in order to complete the project, Mary started with the theories, designed the physical system, machined the parts, assembled them, wrote software, managed the computer interface, data collection and analysis, and finally published the results.
A very complete package indeed.
The real shame, in light of this gold standard, is that most students are completely unaware that these sorts of opportunities exist and are open to any motivated applicant.