Julie Rodriguez holds one of her Rhode Island red chickens that she has fitted with radio frequency identification (RFID) bands.

Julie Rodriguez, 8th grade student at the Elgin School, won two awards at SARSEF, Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair held in Tucson on March 5. She was given the First Place Middle School Project award from Texas Instruments and a Department of the Navy Naval Award, both of which were presented to her at the awards ceremony at Reid Park in Tucson. 

The science fair was virtual this year. The recipients of the awards were notified the day before the presentation so that they could attend in person. Julie and her family joined about 50 fellow recipients and their proud families for the presentation. 

Elgin School science students are required to complete a science fair project each year and are given time to do so during science class. 

“I brainstormed for a problem in my life that I could create a solution for,” Julie said. “Crows get into our chicken coop and steal our eggs and feed. We noticed we were getting less eggs and then saw a crow come out of our coop with an egg in his beak! “ 

Julie devised a way that only her six chickens and no crows or other predators would be able to enter the door to the coop. She researched RFID bands to be worn on the legs of the chickens which would activate a sensor on the wood door of the coop and programmed a microcontroller to open and close the door so the chickens could go in and out. Her dad, a computer engineer, “helped her learn a lot about programming.” 

Annette Koweek, Julie’s science teacher, selected the project to be entered in the SARSEF regional science and engineering competition in the Engineering Robotics, and Computer Science category.

To support the project, Julie entered a detailed lab journal listing every single step involved, her research paper which clearly and concisely describes the project from beginning to end, and a demonstration video featuring Julie, a stuffed chicken with RFID bands on its legs, and a door which opens and closes when signaled. The documents and the video can be viewed on the website at https://virtualfair.sarsef.org 

Julie Rodriguez lives in Sonoita with her brother, her parents, one cream-colored tabby cat, and six French alpine goats. Julie and her father sometimes take the three goats with them on hikes. As for the chickens, there are four Rhode Island reds and two sex-Links. “Yes, I did give them names once, but now I forget what they are,” Julie said. 

As far back as she can remember, she has always been interested in science. Her future plans include high school in Vail or Patagonia and a career in science.