SALE CREEK, TN (WRCB)-   For thirteen years, science teacher Tom Gardner has been inspiring Sale Creek students to ask questions, to explore.  He identifies students with award-winning potential, and brings out their investigative talents.

Sophomore Jared Taylor said, "He's almost like a second father, he's a teacher that actually cares about our welfare and our knowledge."

The school's library is jammed with winning projects from several years of Sale Creek students. Almost every year, Sale Creek sends budding scientists all over the nation to share their findings.

Senior Nicole Sims hadn't intended to go the scientific route.  "I was going for secondary history, and just took this on as a challenge," she said.  "I really like the science field, I think it's going to be good for me."   That comes in handy at Sale Creek.  The small school is limited in the courses and activities it can offer, so Gardner takes the opportunity to motivate his students with challenging competitions.

Gardner said, "That's one of the reasons I have the students compete in science fairs. We can't offer some of the electives and activities big schools have, so our students have more time to take a scientific question and investigate it deeply." 

Many of the award-winning Sale Creek students are soon to be first-time fliers. Jason will represent the school in Houston next month with his project on wood shavings for remediation of oil spills, while Nicole is bound for Phoenix, focusing on protozoan disease.  Both were among the winners of last month's science fair at UTC. 

Nicole said, "The most exciting thing to me will be meeting people from all over the world.  There will be seventy different countries represented there."

Jared added, "You don't have to be a science expert to do well in this, or to enjoy it.  All it is testing, and learning something new every day."

Also, rising senior Darby Schumacher of Baylor has been accumulating an impressive list of science awards with her science project titled, "A Filter Today Keeps Pollutants Away: A Study of Nanofiber Based Stormwater Filtration."

At the 2012 Chattanooga Regional Science & Engineering Fair she claimed first place in the Environmental Management category and $300 in scholarships, as well as the Army Environmental Science Award, Navy Research Award, Association of Women Geoscientists Award, Ricoh Sustainable Development Award, Water Environment Federation Award, and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute Award.  She was also the 2012 Tennessee state winner of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) competition, earning a trip to Boston to compete in the US SJWP competition last summer.