Photo Courtesy of School of MinesPhoto Courtesy of School of Mines

Father and Son Win Spot at International Science Fair 37 Years Apart

Louis Rancour, a sophomore from Wall High School, took home the top honors at this year’s High Plains Regional Science and Engineering Fair held at South Dakota Mines. His project, titled Stealthy Shapes, won the chance to compete in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in Dallas, Texas this coming May.
“When they announced the final, first place overall, I was shocked,” says Louis. His experiment used equipment in his families own military museum, located near Wasta, SD, to test the reflectivity of a variety of aircraft shapes to better understand and demonstrate stealth technology. 
Louis followed directly in his father’s footsteps. In 1986, Tom Rancour won the same regional science fair at South Dakota Mines as a high school sophomore. Tom’s first place project, titled Solar Cell Efficiency Enhancement Using a Fresnel Lens, also won first place overall, and he traveled to the international science fair, held coincidentally in Dallas, Texas.  
“It's a little like ‘Groundhog Day,’ but he is in my place repeating the same steps,” says Tom with a laugh. “I am looking forward to having some of the same experiences my dad did down in Dallas at the international fair,” Louis adds.
Tom went on to finish a degree in civil engineering in 1994 from South Dakota Mines and then added a master’s degree at Mines in the same field a year later. Today, he works as a forensic engineer examining the causes of various structural collapses, often in grain bins. He says the experience at the international fair in high school was an important part of his overall career in engineering.
“Traveling to Dallas as a high school kid exposed me to people from other parts of the world and, most importantly, ideas from all around the world and people who have ways of thinking different from our own,” says Tom. “Louis was in the engineering category just like I was back then, and I’m so pleased he will get to see this event.”
This year, Wall High School did not hold its own science fair and did not send any students to the regional fair at Mines, so Tom entered Louis on his own. “I registered as our own school so we could attend this fair,” says Tom. “Louis was working on this project for over a year, but he was unable to attend previous fairs due to the pandemic. I told him, do not worry about winning an award. Just concentrate on thoroughly knowing your project and be able to clearly explain it to anyone in simple and technical terms. That is how a judge will recognize the project is the student's own work.”
Tom adds that science fairs are an important way to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers. Louis agrees. “The science fair teaches you how to talk and communicate about your project; this will help you in the future with professional and public speaking,” says Louis. 
Head judge, Tom Durkin of the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium at Mines says, “Louis did a tremendous job on his science fair project which included a lot of experimentation and testing, and he presented the results so well, both verbally and graphically. What impressed our final selection team so much was his thorough understanding of the subject and the science behind it, as well as making sure that he really understood our questions before answering.”
Louis is planning to continue to follow his father’s footsteps by attending South Dakota Mines. His passion may focus on mechanical engineering, rather than civil, but Louis sees a positive future in these fields. 
“Engineering and science drive our economy. Everything in our modern lives comes from these disciplines,” says Louis. “I’m very glad to hear that Louis is considering Mechanical Engineering at Mines. We now have an Aerospace Engineering minor in that department. We wish him the best at the international fair,” says Durkin.
The Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair takes place in Dallas, Texas on May 14-19, and the Rancours are making travel plans for the event. Tom’s advice for Louis, "Enjoy the experience and do whatever activities you want to take part in at the international fair.”

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