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Heidelberg High School senior David Brunell, 18, collects hydrogen from a test tube while demonstrating the experiment that earned him first place in this year’s Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe’s Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Riedstadt, Germany. He’ll compete in the national competition next month, along with Europe runner-up Sam Hillestad of Aviano High School.
Heidelberg High School senior David Brunell, 18, collects hydrogen from a test tube while demonstrating the experiment that earned him first place in this year’s Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe’s Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Riedstadt, Germany. He’ll compete in the national competition next month, along with Europe runner-up Sam Hillestad of Aviano High School. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — David Brunell was tickled pink when he saw the white bubbles floating to the top of the tube.

His experiment had worked. With just a few basic ingredients, he had produced hydrogen.

"Just the fact that I could do this in a high school lab is pretty amazing," said the 18-year-old senior from Heidelberg High School.

Brunell’s successful tinkering in his school’s science lab earned him a $2,000 scholarship and an expense-paid trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., to test his discovery against some of the best scientific minds in American high schools.

Last month in Riedstadt, Germany, Brunell won the Department of Defense Dependents Schools’ 35th annual Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

The work began in September, with the student scientists designing an experiment, collecting data and submitting a research paper that was rated by scientists and professors from various colleges. The regional competition culminated with a 12-minute oral presentation to a panel of judges and six minutes’ worth of answering questions.

Brunell’s project dealt with the efficiency of water electrolysis using cobalt phosphate and platinum electrodes. In simpler terms, he was trying to find out if he could produce hydrogen using less energy than that expended in creating hydrogen from sulfuric acid.

Less energy means less greenhouse emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

"It did work, as far as I can tell," Brunell said of his experiment. His research to date shows the cobalt phosphate method increases energy efficiency by 17.6 percent, though he’s still collecting data in advance of the national JSHS competition April 29 to May 3.

He’ll have company from DODDS-Europe on the big stage. Four other students also won a trip to Colorado Springs for their finishes at the regional level. Runners-up in the oral competition were Sam Hillestad of Aviano High School; Sarah Huff of Naples High School; and Kaelyn Faith Wedgeworth of Stuttgart High School. Erin Schwartz of Bitburg High School, meanwhile, won the high school poster contest.

Brunell and Hillestad will present in the oral competition at national JSHS, while Huff and Wedgeworth will attend as spectators.

For his project, Hillestad studied the incidence of radon in the Pordenone province of Italy, according to information from DODDS-Europe JSHS contest officials.

As for Brunell’s chances against nearly 100 students from across the nation, Heidelberg physics and chemistry teacher Ray Smola is optimistic.

"I’ve had him for three years now, and he’s just a great science student," he said. "He’s got a really good project and he made a good presentation."

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