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Spenser Madden and Emilee Watson

Spenser Madden and Emilee Watson win Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge
Award at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Science Fair
By Lynda Wilson
 Team members, Spenser Madden 18, a senior, and Emilee Watson, 15, a freshman, at Emerson High School won the regional round of the Soybean Science Challenge at the 2015 Southwest Arkansas Regional Science Fair held at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia on March 20.  Spenser and Emilee are the first Soybean Science Challenge winners in the Southwest region. 

The team received a $300 cash award provided by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board.  Their science project was designed to determine if an aquaponics system could grow plants and fish as well as the conventional systems of growing crops and fish.

The team also won another $300 award from the Albemarle Foundation for one of the best projects overall that considered and tested a real world everyday issue.

Spenser and Emilee completed the Soybean Science Challenge online course as part of their requirement to receive the award at the regional science fair.  The part of the online course that appealed most to Emilee was the module on soybean feed for animals.  “I raise pigs myself so I find it useful to know that soybean feed contains all the protein and other things my pigs need.”  

Dr. Terry Kirkpatrick, Soybean Science Challenge judge with Emilee Watson and Spenser Madden, Soybean Science Challenge winners at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Science Fair.

For Spencer it was the module which included aquaculture.  “That’s what our science project was on.  After watching those videos on soybeans in aquaculture, I could really see how aquaculture could boost soybean production.

Neither Spencer nor Emilee knew very much about soybeans before taking the course.  Emilee said the course gave her an education in many new ways. Spencer was not knowledgeable about soybean production in Arkansas. “I knew we were big producers in poultry, but had no idea soybeans was such a big deal.  I had not thought of soybeans being grown in Arkansas until Dr. Terry Kirkpatrick and Dr. Lynn Wilson talked to us more about it at the science fair.”

Spencer also said that learning that soybeans can be used for biodiesel was useful. “I plan to become a petroleum engineer so I know that oil will not last forever. An alternative must be found and soybeans could be that alternative.”

Both Emilee and Spencer were honored to be the first Soybean Science Challenge winners from the Southwest region.  “I couldn’t have done it without my teacher, Connie Ovark, my mother, Leslie Hill and Emilee,” said Spencer. 

 Since winning the award, Emilee plans to continue her research in agriculture and soybeans for future science projects.  She wants to expand on their current aquaponics system to determine which soybean type grows the best.

Emilee and Spenser’s mothers were proud and thrilled when their teenagers won the Soybean Science Challenge.  Both mothers recognized that much hard work and perseverance had gone into doing Emilee and Spenser’s science project.

“Spenser has shown an interest in science all his life.  As a toddler, he wanted to know how things worked and enjoyed exploring his environment.  As a two-year-old, he was fascinated with dinosaurs, plants and insects.  He once kept a small cocoon covered tree branch in his room because he wanted to grow butterflies.  Imagine our surprise when we arrived home one day to find a house filled with moths,” said Hill.

At this point Spenser has been awarded scholarships to the University of Arkansas and Louisiana Tech University.  He has not decided which school he will attend, but his mother knows that Spencer has a bright future ahead of him.

April Dendy, Emilee’s mother, said Emilee has always shown an interest in researching different agricultural topics.  She enjoys a challenge and likes to try and experiment with different ways to do things.  Emilee has participated in the science fair every year.

“She is dedicated to any activity in which she participates.  Emilee has a willingness to help others and always tries to problem solve.  One hundred percent is what Emilee gives to all her activities.  If she doesn’t know the answer to something, Emilee does whatever it takes to figure it out,” said her mom.

 “The Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge Award program is in its second year partnership between the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service and the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board,” said Dr. Karen Ballard, Extension developer and director of the program.

“The goal of the Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge is to engage students in “real world” education to support soybean production and agricultural sustainability,” said Shannon Davis, past president of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board.  “The program also rewards scientific inquiry and discovery that supports the Arkansas soybean industry.”

The Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge was launched in January 2014 to 9-12 grade science students.  Students who successfully completed the online course were eligible to have their original soybean-related research projects judged at the 2015 ISEF affiliated Arkansas science and engineering fairs.

Soybean Science Challenge winners Emilee Watson and Spenser Madden’s project at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Science Fair.

Information on the 2015-16 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge will be available in summer 2015.  For more information, contact Dr. Karen Ballard or Dr. Lynda Wilson at 501.671.2086 or

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. 


Spenser Madden and Emilee Watson – First Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge Regional Winner –

Southwest Arkansas Regional Science Fair


Project Title:  Aquaponics Farming VS Conventional Farming

Category:  Team Projects



This experiment was designed to determine if an aquaponics system could grow plants and fish as well as the conventional systems of growing crops and fish. An aquaponics system is one which pumps dirty water from a fish tank into a growing bed that contains plants growing in pea gravel. The system then pumps it back to the fish. This provides nutrients to the plants as well as clean water to the fish. A conventional system is one that grows fish in a normal fish tank with mechanical water filters, and it grows plants in soil. After data was recorded for 56 days, it was determined that the aquaponics system was as efficient, if not more efficient, than the conventional system. The hypothesis formed that plants and fish grown in the aquaponics system would grow faster and larger than the same types of plants and fish in the conventional system was partially correct. Two of the three plants used grew better in the aquaponics design, while the fish grew to a greater average weight in that set up. The belief that the plants and fish would begin growing faster in the aquaponics system was incorrect. It took about the same amount of time for both plants and fish to really start growing in both lay outs. The difference was that two-thirds of the plants and all the fish grew at a greater rate in the aquaponics system once they got started. 



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