Lee Vining elementary students win science fair


Caelen McQuilken, Jordyn Harper show temperatures decrease as elevation increases—despite their own experiences this winter

Two Lee Vining elementary students will go on to a regional science fair in Riverside in April after their professionally produced, meticulously graphed and time-consuming experiments on Mammoth Mountain and other locations proved that overall, temperatures really do decrease as elevation increases.

Sixth-grader Caelen McQuilkin and fifth-grader Jordyn Harper beat seventh and eigth graders to win the county fair after spending weeks in the cold and snow of early winter setting up iButtons (data collection devices) to determine temperatures in several locations in the Eastern Sierra.

“We were really nervous at first because all of the kid’s projects were really great,” they said. 

Both girls live in the Lee Vining area, in the Mono Basin, which spent much of December and January trapped under an icy, sunless, cold air blanket called an inversion—even as Mammoth Lakes residents living more than a thousand feet above the lake hung out in 40-plus degree temperatures.

It was the kind of question made for a science fair—why was Lee Vining, at about 6,700 feet in elevation, so much colder than Mammoth Lakes and Mammoth Mountain, at above 8,500 feet when most people know the higher you go in the mountains, the colder it gets?

“We had been thinking a lot about mountain temperatures because there was poconip (a kind of lake-induced fog, trapped by the cold air above Mono Lake) and everyone was talking about temperature inversions,” they told the Mammoth Times. 

The two girls tramped through snow, mud, ice, and fields, ski hills, and canyons to place their iButtons on various locations to test their hypothesis.

“We thought that the iButtons we used were really interesting,” they said. 

“Also, we thought it would be really fun to place all of the iButtons at different elevations because we would get to ski, bike, and hike to get there. We were also kind of wondering what would happen to the iButtons. The Mammoth Mountain one got frozen in ice, which was interesting. Luckily we got it out a week later when the ice melted.”

The two will compete in a regional science fair in Riverside in early April and they could not be happier, they said.

“I’d say that at the county science fair when they announced that we had gotten best overall, we were really surprised. Now, we are ecstatic that we are going to the regional fair! It will be a great experience.”


Mono County Science Fair results


All schools throughout Mono County were invited to participate in the Mono County Office of Education County Science Fair, grades 4 through 12. There were 14 entries, including students from Edna Beaman Elementary School, Lee Vining Elementary School, Bridgeport Elementary School, and Antelope Elementary School. Mammoth schools did not participate.



• Best Overall:Higher Elevation = Colder Temperatures, True or False?

Caelen McQuilkin, Jordyn Harper

• First place Elementary Level:Is the 5 Second Rule True?

Nathan Crim, 5th grade, Bridgeport Elementary

• First place Junior Level:Can You Blow Your Own Sail?

Destiny Reese, 7th grade, Bridgeport Elementary




Other participants:

• Antelope Elementary School:Kaleigh Salmond, Mayra Garcia, Grace Pinochi, Angelica Childs, Karla Gutierrez, Camille Childs, Victoria Roberts and Abby Walsh

• Bridgeport Elementary School:Nathan Crim, Seth Humiston, Destiny Reese, Amber Little

• Edna Beaman Elementary School:Corie Campbell

• Lee Vining Elementary School:Clair DesBaillets, Julia Aleman, Caelen McQuilkin, Jordyn Harper, Joye Lehen, Charles DesBaillets