Blinding them with Science

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Recent Morgan Academy graduate Randall Huffman is only the fourth high school student from Selma to go to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Portland, Ore.

According to Huffman’s teacher, John Johnson, there were three who went from Selma High School in the 1970s when he was on that faculty, but Huffman is the first since then.

“This is the best year (for awards) in my 37 years of teaching,” Johnson said.

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Huffman joined Hunter Harrelson, Matthew Johnson and David Shaw in making Johnson’s year the best ever with a cornucopia of awards won in the AISA district competition held at Marion Military Institute, the AISA State Competition held at Huntingdon College, the Greater East Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair held at Phenix City, and the Alabama State Engineering Fair held at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.

The high point of the year was Huffman’s all-expense-paid trip to Portland for the international science and engineering fair. Johnson said that Huffman was one of 16 delegates from Alabama to the weeklong event in which contestants from all 50 states and 15-20 foreign countries competed. There were 1,200 projects judged in the competition, he said.

Huffman’s entry was titled “Muffled Resonance.” Johnson described it as a muffler that reflects sound waves and releases back-pressure to provide a substantial increase in power of an engine.

As brilliant as Huffman’s project was, it could not compete with the best of the entries from students from all over the world, Johnson said. It did not win an award.

Johnson noted, for example, that one entrant had adapted a Ford Ranger to run on hydrogen.

Huffman won the right to go to Portland at the Greater East Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair in Phenix City. There he won first place in physics; first place senior division – which won him the trip; the U.S. Army Physics Award; first place, Air Force Engineering Award;

and the Herbert Hoover Young Scientist Engineering Award.

In other competitions, Huffman won awards at

– the AISA district competition: second place, district;

– the AISA state competition at Huntingdon College: first place senior high division overall state with a $7,000 scholarship to Huntingdon;

– the Alabama State Engineering Fair at the University of Alabama, Huntsville: fourth place, senior high physics; first place, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics with a $50 cash award.

Huffman, who is working this summer as he has in the past, with his mother and stepfather at Campbell & Pearson in Valley Grande, displays humility

about his extraordinary accomplishments.

Dressed in his working outfit, indistinguishable from the others on the Campbell & Pearson team, Huffman simply said, “I enjoyed it. (My teacher) John Johnson suggested it. We worked on it altogether for six months just about every day. It wasn’t that expensive to build.”

Huffman said that Johnson and judges in the competition suggested that he seek a patent, which he said he is exploring.

“He’s a great teacher,” Huffman said of Johnson.

Tammy Troha, who is co-owner with her husband of the business, said her son has always been “mechanically inclined. His father (Ricky Huffman) always said that about him,” she said.

“He sets his mind to do something. He has patience. He can do anything he wants to do,” she said.

Huffman said that he planned to enroll in Wallace Community College either in the fall or spring.

Beyond that his educational plans are not yet made, he said.

Not just a one man team:

Morgan Academy graduate Randall Huffman won the most science awards this past year in several competitions.

Others who accompanied him from Morgan and also won awards were:

AISA District Competition at Marion Military Institute: Hunter Harrelson – fifth place, chemistry; David Shaw – honorable mention, physics; and Matthew Johnson – honorable mention, junior high chemistry.

Greater East Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair at Phenix City: Hunter Harrelson – second place, chemistry; chemistry special award from U.S. Navy; David Shaw – second place, physics; U.S. Army Physics Award; U.S. Optics Award; and Matthew Johnson – first place, junior high chemistry; first place, overall junior high division.

Alabama State Engineering Fair at University of Alabama, Huntsville: David Shaw – honorable mention, physics; Matthew Johnson – honorable mention, junior high chemistry; Hunter Harrelson – TVA, first place, best show of environmental science; INTEL best of show, first place for environmental health and safety, $200 cash award; fourth place, senior high chemistry.