When Baotram Nguyen's great-grandmother got sick, she would always ask for ginger tea.
For her final high school science fair project, Baotram, a senior at Berks Catholic High School, decided to figure out whether ginger really does have healing properties.
She proved her great-grandmother right: Ginger can kill bacteria. That means it could potentially be used in place of traditional antibiotics, which can become ineffective over time if a person's body develops resistance.
During an awards ceremony Thursday night at Albright College, Baotram was named champion of the 65th annual Reading-Berks Science and Engineering Fair.
She was one of 461 students from across the county who competed for more than $12,000 in prize money donated by local businesses, organizations and government agencies.
Having participated every year since sixth grade, Baotram said the best part about science fair is the opportunity to discover something new.
"It's really cool that you can make an impact, even just doing research in your own basement," she said.
Baotram and grand champion Lacie Pichler will go on to represent Berks County at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, May 14-19 in Los Angeles.
Lacie, a junior at Conrad Weiser High School, studied bioactive glass, a type of glass that is compatible with human cells. In a previous experiment, she had determined that antibiotics had a negative impact on cells, so she wanted to try using bioactive glass to mitigate that impact.
Lacie spoke about her project using words best suited for the ears of fellow scientists. But she described her science fair experience in simple terms - stressful and a lot of work, but most of all fun.
Rosalie Brunner, a senior at Conrad Weiser, was named reserve champion and will serve as an alternate for the Intel fair.
She studied the use of different catheters to inject chemotherapy drugs into brain tumors, an experimental treatment method for brain cancer patients.
Linda Rentschler, science fair director and a former science teacher, said that while the awards are exciting, simply the act of participating helps students develop skills they'll use for the rest of their lives.
"The self-confidence they gain is a big part of it," she said. "I've seen shy, shrinking violets transform into scientific professionals."
This year students didn't actually get a chance to present their projects - judges made their decisions based on students' written reports - because the fair schedule was condensed after the snow earlier in the week.
But Rentschler hopes to see many students returning to participate in 2018.
Now in its 65th year, the fair was founded by the Reading Chemists Club in 1952 and is believed to be the third oldest science fair in the country.
Michael Gerhart retired last year after 40 years of involvement, including 15 years as fair director.
During the awards ceremony Thursday, Rentschler thanked Gerhart for his longtime support.
He briefly reflected on decades of science fair success.
"I could write a book about students who participated in the science fair and then went on to do great things," he said. "I guess that's what I have to do next."