HOHENFELS, Germany -- As first place winner of the poster presenters at this year's European Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) in Riedstadt, Hohenfels Middle/High School sophomore Clinton Schwartz will head to the National symposium in Washington, D.C., May 2-6.

Schwartz is one of three HMHS students who competed and placed in the highly competitive symposium last month. Juniors Tony Williams and Andrew Becker placed second and fourth, respectively, in the poster presentations.

One hundred fifty-nine students from across Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Europe began the competition in September 2011 . Over the next five months, students completed six incremental submissions, struggling even for the opportunity to compete.

"It's progressive, and a way to start weeding people out," explained HMHS science teacher Joyce Dusenberry. "What' they're looking for are original research projects that kids do. They have to form their hypothesis, set up their experiment, and basically collect data, analyze that data and come to a conclusion. And then they either present it as an oral presentation or they present it as a poster."

Based on an extensive paper that outlined their research, 11 students across DoDDS were invited to present their findings at the symposium orally, while another six were invited to create poster presentations.

"(HMHS) started out with about 12 and we actually had six that made it through the final stages, and out of the six, three were invited," said Dusenberry.

Dusenberry served as a mentor to the Hohenfels competitors and said she was very proud of all her students.

"They worked hard, they had good ideas and they followed through on the research," she said. "Everybody in Hohenfels who got invited, placed."

"The feeling was incredible when we found out that we all placed, and we all felt like winners," said Williams. "I left the symposium knowing that hard work pays off, and I am grateful that I was one of the few who were selected to attend."

Williams said he spent incalculable hours on his project, entitled "The difference of spatial ability between males and females." But he added that the increase in his self-confidence as well as improved teamwork skills, made all the hard work worth it.

Andrews, who studied the effects of wing design on lift-to-drag ratio, agreed that there was more to the symposium then awards and prize money.

"I got to see the experiments of my peers, and frankly some were mind-blowing with how complex and well-done they were," he said.

At the symposium, competitors also conducted experiments and visited laboratories and research facilities.

"We were there with like 40 crazy science people," Schwartz laughed. "We were doing experiments in groups comparing solar, wind and battery power and its effects and doing projects on that. It was really, really competitive. We had to do a power point presentation in 15 minutes on our findings. It was really cool to be in that environment with all those people working on science."

Schwartz said he knew immediately that his project would focus on the environment. As a seventh- grader in Washington, D.C., he became passionate about environmental issues while working as a volunteer for Congressman Gerald E. Connolly. Becoming involved with the environmental group, "The Climate Reality Project," Schwarz helped raise money and awareness for environmental issues.

"But since moving to Europe, I haven't really done much," he admitted while praising Germany's stance on the environment. "This project was my first opportunity to get down, roll my sleeves up, and physically do something that could make a difference."

Comparing the effects of natural and synthetic detergents on the environment, Schwartz hypothesized that synthetic detergents harm plant life, while what is marketed as natural would be virtually ineffective.

"When I was starting it, I thought maybe I should do something else because this was an obvious result," he said. "It turned out to be quite the opposite of what I was expecting. The synthetic detergent actually helped the plants grow, while the natural one killed them."

Schwartz learned that to be marketed as "natural" merely required a detergent to be carbon based. "But they have lots of bad stuff in them," he added. "Natural detergent has been found to change the gender of fish."

Schwartz will be attending the national symposium as a student representative for HMHS but will not be competing. Still, he has future plans for his research.

"I want to test some other detergents," he said. During his experiment, he learned that detergents from the 1950s were soap and alcohol based, and he plans on researching their impact on the environment.

"And if (they're not better) I want to experiment making my own detergent perhaps with a mix using some of the less harsh chemicals of modern detergents with the soap and alcohol ones," said Schwartz.