ARGYLE — Michael Becker, a freshman at Liberty Christian School, is one of 30 finalists competing in the Broadcom MASTERS competition in Washington, D.C.
The Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars), which kicked off Friday and continues through Tuesday, is a science, technology, engineering and mathematics competition for middle school students in which they’re tested on their abilities in the related subjects, teamwork and collaboration. The 30 finalists — from California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado and Virginia — will be visiting Washington, D.C.
The Broadcom MASTERS’ top prize is $25,000, and one other finalist will be awarded $10,000. Other awards and prizes include a combined $30,000 in experimental and product awards to be divided among eight finalists; two finalists will be selected to represent the United States as Broadcom MASTER International delegates at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair; all finalists will receive $500 awards and a $250 gift card and donated poster boards and supplies for the various contest challenges.
Becker is the first student from Liberty Christian School to advance to the competition’s finals, according to school officials. This is just one year after being named a semifinalist for the competition.
Finalists for this year’s contest were selected from among 300 semifinalists from 43 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The top 10 percent of students competing in their local Society for Science and the public-affiliated science fair are nominated for Broadcom MASTERS, and those nominated must submit an application judged during the summer. In August, semifinalists are announced.
“When I made it to the 300 the first time around ... it was just an honor to be within the 300,” Becker said. “I’m just so blessed, so thankful for just being able to get this far and being able to go to this competition. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for sure.
“I’m hoping I’m setting the bar for other people to follow, setting the example.”
Becker, 14, will be showing his project “Different Temperatures, Different Pitch” at the contest, which was nominated for Broadcom MASTERS after a showing at the Fort Worth Regional Science and Engineering Fair. For five years, Becker said he’s played trombone. While playing with the school’s marching band outdoors, Becker said he noticed a change in the instrument’s pitch and sound when playing in cooler weather. About two years ago, he created an experiment that looked at how change in temperatures impacted his trombone’s pitch.
Last October, Becker said he took the experiment a step further and looked at what effect cooler temperatures would have on woodwind, string and electronic instruments. He learned to play the clarinet and also used an acoustic guitar and electronic keyboard for the experiment, Becker said. He played five F notes in 85-, 75-, 65-, 55- and 45-degree temperatures and measured the pitch using a tuner. One variable Becker said he controlled was that he allowed each instrument to sit out in the temperature he was testing 30 minutes before so that it adjusted to the temperature.
According to a Broadcom MASTERS 2013 finalists booklet that details the tactics and results of Becker’s experiment, he averaged the musical notes to see how far they were from a perfect F note.
Becker said what he identified is that there was no change in the electronic keyboard. But, as the temperature dropped, the pitch for both the clarinet and trombone went flat and almost changed a full note at the coolest temperature. As the temperature dropped, Becker said the guitar pitch became sharper and the strings tightened.
He said he’s computed an algebraic formula for each instrument to predict the change in pitch based on air temperature. The formula, he said, can tell musicians how off the pitch of their instrument will be based on air temperature before ever playing it.
Competition at the Broadcom MASTERS will be stiff, Becker said. He’s competing against students who are presenting projects including digitally recreating smells, designing better rockets and developing new ways for treating rheumatoid arthritis. However, Becker said he feels good that not only are competitors being judged on their individual projects but on team building exercises.
“I’m a little nervous, but I’m just going to go in and be myself,” Becker said.
Lisa Deaver, Becker’s former science teacher who taught him during his eighth-grade year, described him as a student who loves science, is a hard worker, pays attention to detail, is a problem solver, has good ideas, has good people skills and is good at communicating his ideas. All of those attributes, she said, make up a good project. Deaver, who now teaches in Aubrey, said she’s proud of her former student and knowing that he’s the first from Liberty Christian to advance to the finals is a milestone.
“I was so excited,” she said. “His dad sent me an e-mail and as soon as I saw it ... I jumped up from the chair excited.
“To have one of the top 30 projects in the entire nation is an incredible accomplishment,” Deaver said. “Michael is a gifted young man who is choosing to make the most out of his opportunities.”
School officials at Liberty Christian say they, too, are proud of Becker.
“I think it’s huge. It’s huge for Michael for obvious reasons. It’s the chance of a lifetime,” said Heather Lytle, the school’s science department chairwoman. “It’s huge for the science program at Liberty.”