Second-grander Mark Burns (center) won first place at the Brookhaven National Lab science fair, and Liam and Logan Levesque (right and left) were awarded honorable mentions. Photo: Katie Blasl

Mark Burns is a tiny, soft-spoken second-grader at Riley Avenue. He is a little shy, with eyeglasses that seem too large for his round face, but when asked about his science fair project, he lights up with visible enthusiasm.

“It was snowing a lot this year,” he explains. “And trucks were putting chemicals all over the place, so we wanted to use better stuff for the environment.”

His project, “Snow Problem,” investigated environment-friendly alternatives to melting ice and snow from roadways other than “salt and chemicals.”

And it won him first place at Brookhaven National Lab’s annual science fair – the first time a Riley Avenue student has been awarded such an honor.

“He’s making history here,” said Terry Messina, science fair coordinator and fourth grade teacher at Riley Avenue Elementary School. “We’re very excited.”

Mark said he wanted to find an alternative to road salt and "chemicals" that is friendlier to the environment. Photo: Katie Blasl
Mark said he wanted to find an alternative to road salt and “chemicals” that is friendlier to the environment. Photo: Katie Blasl

More than 100 schools across Suffolk County participate in the fair every year. There are more than 500 projects entered across eligible grade levels, from kindergarten through sixth grade.

“It’s quite an honor,” Messina said.

Mark called the Riverhead Town Highway Department and learned that its trucks use calcium chloride to pre-treat roadways. After storms, the department then uses a mixture of one part salt and two parts sand to melt ice from the pavement.

For the experiment, he tested a number of natural alternatives, including beet juice, alfalfa and pickle brine.

Pickle brine was the winner.

“So did you call George Woodson afterward to see if he could switch to pickle brine?” joked Sandra Kolbo, the school district’s director of public information. “He’s the guy that runs the roads,” she informed Mark.

Brothers Liam and Logan Levesque, in Riley Avenue’s fourth grade and kindergarten respectively, also were awarded honorable mentions in the fair.

“The science fair is a lot of fun,” Liam said. “I like seeing all the other projects that made it in from Riley.”

Logan, Mark and Liam pose in front of a banner awarded by Brookhaven National Lab for Mark's first place award. Photo: Katie Blasl
Logan, Mark and Liam pose in front of a banner awarded by Brookhaven National Lab for Mark’s first place award. Photo: Katie Blasl

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Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a co-publisher of RiverheadLOCAL. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie