2 Hilton Head sisters steal show at science fair

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMarch 26, 2014 

Smarts -- science and math smarts, in particular -- must run in the Hamlin family.

Victoria Hamlin worked to develop a better system to recover research rockets.

Her older sister, Ashley Hamlin, studied the human eye and brain to determine the highest light speeds people can perceive.

The Hamlin sisters are not astronauts, nor are they neurophysicists -- at least not yet. They're not even high school graduates.

However, they are winners of the 2014 Sea Island Regional Science Fair, and they've been nicknamed the Science Fair Sisters.

"I could not believe it when they called my name. It was a little bit of a deer-in-headlights moment," said Ashley, a sophomore at Hilton Head Island High School. The 16-year-old took home the Grand Award for the high school division, which included more than 80 competitors from public and private schools in and around Beaufort County.

Victoria, an eighth-grader at Hilton Head Island Middle School, topped nearly 300 students to win Best in Show for the middle school division.

Their mother, Debbie Hamlin, said many were surprised when the same last name was announced twice at the awards ceremony Monday night at the Coastal Discovery Museum.

Competing in science fairs is nothing new for Ashley and Victoria. They have been conducting experiments and asking difficult questions since they were in first grade, Debbie Hamlin said.

They say they find inspiration for projects almost everywhere they look -- typically, whenever they want to learn more about how something works.

"For me, all the projects have been pretty equal because I really try to do and work on something that I think I'll really enjoy," said Victoria, 14. "Sometimes, keeping up with homework and extracurriculars when it gets close to the fair is hard, but possible, because I want to spend my time working on the project."

The long nights and hard work paid off.

Because of their wins, the sisters -- in addition to five other top finishers at the high school level -- will travel to Los Angeles in May for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. More than 1,000 competitors from 70 countries will vie for $4 million in awards and scholarships.

Ashley will be one of those competitors. Victoria will attend as an observer only because the fair is for high school students -- though she hopes to return as a competitor next year.

Students' travel and accommodations expenses are covered by the Sea Island Regional Science Fair, an independent nonprofit organization.

Both sisters have been to the Intel-sponsored fair before.

"It is so inspiring to see those projects, some that are way over your head, but the cool part is trying to understand them and to try your best to get to that level," Victoria said.

Victoria and Ashley said one of their favorite parts of science fairs is an opportunity to see what the next big scientific discovery will be before most people know about it.

"These fairs bring people from all over the country or the world who speak different languages and think in different ways, but they are brought together by science," Ashley said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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