It isn't often that a middle schooler earns the top prize in the Edison Kiwanis Science & Engineering Fair.
For North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts student Derrick Robles, it has become an annual thing.
Robles, an eighth-grader, won the Grand Award at the fair in January and a four-year scholarship to Florida Gulf Coast University - both for the second time.
North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts student Derrick Robles
The only down side about the second win is that when he takes his project to the state competition in April, it will be when he's also supposed to appear in the school's production of "Music Man II."
Robles, who lives in Cape Coral, took home the big prize for his experiment on the affect of a super capacitor on how long a solar-powered fan can run without a constant light source.
A super capacitor is an electronic component that stores and discharges electrical energy, and it was attached to a motor that had a fan on it, powered by a solar panel, Robles said.
Robles ran tests without the super capacitor, with the solar panel receiving energy from a work light to spin the fan. When the light was turned off, the fan stopped almost immediately.
He then used a super capacitor. Using the same parameters, the fan was able to spin as long as eight seconds without the light source.
The project built on the winning project he did last year, using a capacitor that discharges all its energy at one time and doesn't store as much as a super capacitor.
"The first time I won was great because my mom and dad were happy that the cost of college was lifted off their shoulders," Robles said. "I kind of expected it this time because the judges came around during the second round of judging."
This year, Robles had some competition from schoolmate Alexa Lowerman, who tied him for first in the category. But only one can go to the state competition in Lakeland, and his was chosen.
Melissa Lewellen, Robles' science teacher, had a huge hand in making Robles' project a winner, by splitting things up in bits and pieces and assigning them so he could follow the scientific method.
"He's won two years in a row, so it's a big deal for him and for us. We support him and do anything for him," Lewellen said. "I pushed him to find a project unlike anyone else's. I don't want them to do mundane paper towel projects. They need to do experimental projects, and he does that and likes it."
Robles said he plans to continue entering the science fair and use his love of the need to know how things work as a foundation for an engineering career.
"Derrick can do whatever he wants to do. He's that bright," school principal Dr. Douglas Santini said. "He does the right things and he does a lot of them. He gets into drama and Odyssey of the Mind and I appreciate this. He's a leader in a quiet sort of way."
He said his next project will be to use the super capacitors to power larger things such as a machine or robot and test their durability.
Lewellen said that since there were no entries in some categories done by high school students, Robles should consider pursuing that.
As for his appearance in the musical in April, that's been taken care of.
"We had to make arrangements to doublecast his part so he'll be able to do the first and last shows," Santini said. "We felt we should help him out. He came in and we talked about it."