Thursday, February 17, 2011


Yesterday was Science Fair Day at the high school. I always volunteer to be a judge because I love the enthusiasm of the students and the stories I collect. This yea, social media was the hot topic and psychology displays filled half the room. Choosing to go against the flow, I found a team that picked biology, health and medicine. Good choice!

Our thirteen exhibits included:

  • Proving that carbs delay hunger longer than sugar with two girls feeding 32 friends and family members breakfasts of Cocoa Puffs, Total, doughnuts, and eggs on succeeding days and then tracking their hunger levels at half hour intervals.

  • Showing that fingerprints aren't genetically linked - or at least not in the thirty pairs of familial and non-familial subjects a sophomore boy who wants to become a crime scene investigator rounded up.

  • Demonstrating roses stay fresh longer in solutions of bleach water and Sprite than in mixtures using the little packets provided by florists by two freshman friends whose mothers complained of having to throw out expensive flowers too soon.

Of course there were more "scientific" experiments in the collection but my favorite was a very weak display I didn't understand about acidosis. It was my favorite because of the real-world learning the students gained and the persistence they exhibited. Two young men who want to be doctors designed an experiment they couldn't perform with the limited equipment and materials in the high school lab (a sad commentary on the effects of budget cuts, but that's another story). In order to use the facilities at the local college, they needed to submit a proposal. To their surprise, the first one wasn't accepted. After two more attempts (and considerable learning about college expectations), they were successful in securing lab space and a graduate student mentor. Next they learned that real science takes time as the two hours they thought would be sufficient stretched to six, and eventually, eight hours. During that process they discovered how easy it is to contaminate substances or miss a measurement by a tiny fraction of a milligram. Because their final data was less than conclusive, they added more than a few assumptions to their final report - and got to rewrite it several times using only data they could personally substantiate. Their presentation described all these hurdles and helped them clearly decide what they want to do next year. In my book, that's a better reward than a blue ribbon.

May your new experiences this week also be rich learning experiences,

Mary Ann