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Perham student will blast off to international science fair with 'rocket candy' project

Jonah Bieger, 18, will be competing in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair this May with his project, "Testing the Effects of Various Mixture Ratios on Rocket Impulse," which won first place at the Minnesota West Regional Science Fair in late February.

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Jonah Bieger, 18, stands in front of the science project that earned him first place at the 72nd annual Western Regional Science Fair, hosted remotely by the University of Minnesota Crookston Feb. 23-26.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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Perham High School senior Jonah Bieger will be blasting off to the 2022 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in May after winning first place at the regional fair in late February with his science project about "rocket candy."

The international science fair will be taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, from May 7-13.

"(Winning) was pretty cool," Bieger said of his first-place win at the Western Regional Science Fair, hosted remotely by the University of Minnesota Crookston Feb. 23-26. "It shocked me. I never really saw this project as a first-place project, but they (the judges) liked it."

Titled, "Testing the Effects of Various Mixture Ratios on Rocket Impulse," Bieger's project is a product of his own personal interest in rockets, and his wish to understand why some formulas used to make "rocket candy" — the fuel that powers homemade rockets — worked better than others.

He couldn't find the answers he was looking for anywhere, even on the internet, so he took the initiative and created a scientific study to determine the answers for himself.

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"I've made these rockets in the past, just shooting them off for fun," Bieger said. "I never saw data for what would get the best results."

Rocket candy is made from a mix of potassium nitrate and powdered sugar. For his experiment, Bieger mixed them together at different ratios to propel the rockets, and then measured the different rocket impulses — how fast the propellant ejects out of the back of the rocket — that resulted from each mixture.

The higher the impulse, the more push a rocket gets from the fuel.

"There's internet tutorials on how to make (rocket candy)," Bieger said. "But it was always, 'Use this many tablespoons of each.' None of them explained what mixture ratio to use or why it worked. I was basically just trying to get more in depth on this project."

He measured rocket impulse by firing his rockets into a scale, then recording the reading on the scale with his phone camera so he could see how much the force changed as the rocket burned.

Through his experiments, he found the best ratio for maximum thrust is 16:9 for potassium nitrate to sugar.

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Bieger points at a graph on his science fair project board as he discusses his research methods to find the most effective formula for homemade rocket fuel.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Physics and other types of science are a hobby for Bieger. He participates in Perham High School's Robotics Team, and he's considering a future career in STEM. For now, he completes his scientific pursuits for his own enjoyment.

Bieger and about eight other Perham High School students will also be competing at the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair starting March 20. "I'm very proud of Jonah and all the kids," said Shawn Stafki, Perham High School science teacher. "I know Jonah was probably not expecting (to win). You never do."

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Stafki said Bieger will be among competitors from all 50 of the United States and about 70 different countries at the international science fair.

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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