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The current Ebola crisis in West Africa has already topped charts for all Ebola outbreaks in history. Though there are potential medicines being tested, the path to an available antiviral treatment is one riddled with questions and precautions for biochemists. Medical biotechnology science projects let students gets hands-on with the kinds of real-world research and development scientists are doing, right now, as they face the ongoing Ebola health crisis.

Ebola virus virion; Cynthis Goldsmith, CDC
Ebola virus virion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library, Cynthia Goldsmith

While there are thousands of diseases out there that we hope our immune systems can fight off as we move from place to place, meal to meal, and situation to situation, there are a few keynote diseases and viruses that stand at the top of the pile in terms of the fear they inspire. SARS. Swine flu. Avian flu. Ebola.

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that appeared in spring 2014 and continues to spread is the first Ebola outbreak since late 2012-early 2013. The difference this time is that the final tally on recorded cases in 2013 was 413. Already more than 6,000 cases have been reported in West Africa this year, and a World Health Organization statement released on September 26, 2014, reports that more than 3,000 patients with Ebola have died.

The current Ebola crisis has already affected more than ten times the number of people who contracted Ebola in 1976, the year the virus first appeared and, until now, the worst outbreak on record. The number of cases continues to climb, which has led to alarming predictions about the escalation of the epidemic.

In a startling report last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1.4 million people may contract Ebola by January, 2015 in Liberia and Sierra Leone.


Where is the Medicine?

The exact cause of the Ebola outbreak has not yet been identified, but the mounting number of cases in West Africa has signaled alarm bells around the world because there is no proven preventative vaccine for Ebola or treatment for those who have Ebola. According to the CDC, "no specific vaccine or medicine (e.g., antiviral drug) has been proven to be effective against Ebola."

That doesn't mean researchers and doctors are not pushing boundaries in the race to find medical treatments. Researchers are looking for both a vaccine that may, in the future, help prevent someone from getting the Ebola virus and antiviral medicines that may help treat patients with the Ebola virus by reducing the duration of the illness, lessening symptoms, and decreasing the mortality rate associated with the virus. Antivirals are medicines used to treat a patient who already has the disease and work by blocking viruses from entering cells or replicating within cells.

For example, research is underway on ZMapp, a drug the CDC reports is being developed as a possible treatment for those infected with Ebola. The drug, "a combination of three different monoclonal antibodies that bind to the protein of the Ebola virus" is still in early stages of testing, however, and has, according to the CDC, not moved yet to testing in humans.

ZMapp may have potential as a future treatment for Ebola, but no Ebola-specific antiviral drug is available for immediate use to help doctors and patients who are battling the current Ebola epidemic. This reality has led some doctors to try existing antivirals (designed to treat other diseases) with Ebola patients.


A Real-world Science Project

A great deal of testing and research is necessary when developing new antivirals or exploring the possibility of using existing medications in the treatment of another disease. Students can explore the kinds of questions and challenges involved in the Hitting the Target: The Importance of Making Sure a Drug's Aim Is True medical biotechnology project.

In Hitting the Target, students use bioinformatics tools to explore questions related to research that has been done on Ebola and a potential antiviral that may be used to treat infected patients. A drug that binds to the NPC1 protein may work well as a successful Ebola antiviral, but what happens if the medication also binds with non-target proteins? This is the kind of question that biochemists and bioinformatics scientists must answer before a drug can be used to help treat patients.


What About Immunity?

While containment practices are critical in helping prevent the spread of Ebola in affected areas of West Africa, there are people who are immune to the disease, either because they have survived the virus, have possibly been in contact with small amounts of the virus before and not fallen ill, or possibly have some genetic immunity. Scientists do not yet know how many people may be immune and learning more about immunity and the antibodies present in those who are immune may help lead to the development of a vaccine. Students can learn more about how memory cells in the body help the body fight off repeat encounters with a virus in the Fighting the Flu: How Your Immune System Uses Its Memory science project.


What Triggered the Outbreak?

While reasons for the outbreak and the unparalleled spread of Ebola in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone are still being identified, the origin of the exposure may stem from bats, which are known to carry the disease and which are reportedly hunted (and eaten) in Guinea where the current epidemic may have started.

To read more about the possible relationship between bats and the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, see:

Science Buddies' Project Ideas in Medical Biotechnology are sponsored by the Amgen Foundation.

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The Next Generation Science Standards encourage a multi-dimensional view of science education, one that highlights the importance of students learning to use the engineering design process—as well as the scientific method.

Egg Drop Project / Teacher Dropping Egg from Height

Science and Engineering Methods Side by Side in Next Generation Science Standards

A classic physics activity challenges students to discover how to keep an egg from breaking when dropped from a certain height. Using the scientific method, a student may initially hypothesize that the egg will break! Subsequent variations of the hypothesis might posit that x material will provide better shock absorption than y material. An experimental procedure is then established to test.

Using the engineering design process, students accept that the egg will break unless a solution is devised to protect it. Students then move on to brainstorming, prototyping, testing, and refining a solution created specifically to meet the need—and protect the egg. (Image: Wikipedia.)

The much-discussed Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), finalized last spring, signal broad-spectrum change in K-12 science curriculum. Among the foundational tenets of the NGSS is an integrated, circular model of learning that involves a continuous flow between three "dimensions": practices (scientific and engineering methods), cross-cutting concepts (e.g., cause and effect; energy and matter; stability and change), and disciplinary core ideas. According to the NGSS framework, every standard will sit within the three dimensions, offering a new, integrated, and experiential approach to science education, an approach in which learning and application of science builds upon and extends previous learning and experience as students progress through grade levels.

Central to the NGSS is new attention to the importance of familiarizing students with the engineering design process—and giving them opportunities in which to use the engineering design process (or engineering "method") as a way to apply science, technology, engineering, and math to challenges or problems. The NSTA summarizes the NGSS this way: "The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) establish learning expectations for students that integrate three important dimensions—science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts—effectively builds science concepts from kindergarten through 12th grade, and integrates important concepts of engineering."

The engineering design process is, of course, not new. Within certain fields, principles of the engineering design process are critical to everyday exploration, research, and invention, and countless examples of innovation and discovery throughout history have roots in the engineering design process. What is new, however, is a national educational approach that calls for making room for a design process that helps blueprint innovation alongside the traditional scientific method that seeks an answer to a science question based on testing. Cohabitation of these methods will have broad impact for many classrooms and science fairs that have not, to date, integrated, encouraged, or allowed student engineering design projects. (See the gray box at the bottom of this post for links to helpful Science Buddies Teacher Resources!)


Similar but Different

While both involve a series of somewhat systematic steps, the scientific method and the engineering design process use different sets of steps. The methods resemble one another in that they offer steps which help guide and order exploration or inquiry, but as many students and teachers have discovered, a student's engineering design project cannot always be easily squished into the steps of the scientific method either during the procedure or for the purposes of judging. It is and has been done, yes. Not all science fairs, for example, make specific allowances for engineering design projects, which has left students creatively adapting their engineering project steps and data to fit the scientific method model. With the advent of the NGSS and new validation of the importance of teaching engineering design as a critical "practice" for all students, regardless of whether or not they will pursue fields in science and engineering, ramping up for broader integration of engineering design will be important.

In explaining the "practices" dimension, authors of the NGSS specifically highlight the importance of both methods—and their differences. "Although engineering design is similar to scientific inquiry, there are significant differences. For example, scientific inquiry involves the formulation of a question that can be answered through investigation, while engineering design involves the formulation of a problem that can be solved through design."

By learning to use the separate scientific and engineering "practices," students will be better able to approach a broad range of real-world challenges. In many cases, brainstorming solutions to an engineering challenge requires creative thinking and both the ability and the confidence to think outside a prescribed set of parameters—the proverbial "box." A solution often lies in the pursuit of a new approach that answers a need in a completely new way, or maybe answers in a way that is only slightly different but enough different to have an important or measurable effect. Solving some science problems requires the ability to think independently, to synthesize core principles, and then to find a way to apply (or account for) those principles. Solving many of today's—and tomorrow's—problems will require an engineering mindset, and it is this reality that underlies the weight given to engineering methods in the NGSS.

Unfortunately, in some science education classrooms and settings, creative and innovative thinking has been kept to the periphery, often by necessity. The relationship between curriculum requirements and testing has not always left room for hands-on learning or for learning where different answers and different solutions can be encouraged. Instead, in order to prepare students to fill in the correct circles on standardized tests, there are often rote exercises and labs that students work through, exercises that may pass as active learning. By fulfilling a series of prescribed steps, students see an outcome, but deviating from the steps is not always encouraged, and troubleshooting when something goes wrong is not always required. Approached in this way, hands-on science runs the risk of becoming narrow, linear, and prescribed.

What about all the accidents that led to scientific discovery and breakthrough? What about the fact that changing a single variable might dramatically alter the results of an experiment? What about the questions that arise from the basic test, the "what if" that comes rushing to the surface for an engaged student who wants to take an experiment to the next level?

With the NGSS and the emphasis on multiple dimensions of learning, students may find more latitude for thinking creatively and learning how to apply creativity to science and engineering problems. But there will be many new questions for administrators and teachers. How will science fair requirements change for engineering design projects? How should engineering design projects be graded? What do students conducting an engineering design project turn in?


Scientific method and engineering design charts

Science Buddies Resources for Science Education
The "Comparing the Engineering Design Process and the Scientific Method" resource is one of many tools at Science Buddies designed to support teachers as they include both science and engineering projects in their curriculum and planning.

Employing the Engineering Method

While engineering design shifts focus to innovation, improvement, and problem solving, the method helps guide students in a series of successive steps that include research, brainstorming, prototyping, testing, data analysis, and documentation. The difference is that there is often iterative looping at points in the method as students prototype, test, and then go back and make changes to the design, prototype again, and retest.

In the engineering design process, troubleshooting is not an action that happens when a procedure is not performing as expected; troubleshooting, instead, is a process of determining in what ways a design is not meeting the specified requirements and brainstorming and evaluating ways to modify the design to better address the need and as a result of testing and evaluation of a previous design. Students working on engineering design projects may begin not with a question but with a problem and are asked to simultaneously think creatively and analytically as they search for and test possible solutions.


The Egg Drop: A Classic Exercise

A classic physics assignment requires students to design a solution that will allow an egg to be dropped from a certain height without breaking. The parameters, including the acceptable materials and the height of the drop, waffle from teacher to teacher, but the general concept of the challenge is the same—you have to protect your egg. Your goal is to protect the egg from breaking when dropped from a given height. The problem involves the fact that an egg will break upon impact when dropped from a given height to a hard surface. Understanding and addressing the problem involves synthesizing knowledge about the physics of gravity, free fall, velocity, and acceleration. Add in materials science factors of elasticity, stress, and shock absorption, and you have the makings of a great interdisciplinary and hands-on exploration.

What happens when you drop an egg from a second floor landing?

Can you do anything about it?

What principles of physics come into play?

Is there a way to change the egg's outcome?

What real-world scenarios present similar challenges?

It takes engineering know-how and an understanding of the laws of physics to prototype a solution. But devising an innovative approach to protecting an egg from the combined effects of gravity and impact with a hard landing surface also requires the ability to think creatively. There is no single workable solution to protecting the egg. Instead, many approaches may work. What approach will work best? And why? These are the kinds of questions students ask and think through when selecting a design to prototype.

In asking these questions and designing a solution, students employ the engineering design process. The standard steps of the scientific method provide an ill-fitting rubric for this kind of investigation. The engineering method, on the other hand, offers a map students can follow as they work through the process. What materials will work? What are the benefits of different materials? Does the solution need to fall within a certain price point? How much protection is "too much"? Even when conducted as a short (10-15 minute) in-class challenge with limited materials by individuals or collaborative teams, the engineering method helps students focus the design process as they move from problem to solution. Although in some competitions, testing the prototype is not allowed until the end where it is, truly, a make or break demonstration!

And what happens if the egg breaks? The information and data from the testing can be funneled back into the process for subsequent revisions to the design, prototyping, and re-testing.


From Protecting Eggs to Solving Problems Today and Tomorrow

The challenge as teachers and schools begin adopting and implementing NGSS will be to encourage students to think conceptually about a wide range of problems encountered in the real world, from the need to package fruits in a way that reduces bruising during transport to new designs for more full-featured and comfortable prosthetic limbs; new designs for artificial organs, and other life-saving medical devices; innovations in battery technology to efficiently store green but cyclic energy like solar and wind power; and designing inexpensive and effective carbon sequestration techniques. With the right framework at hand, and familiarity with following steps for both science and engineering projects, what today's students will discover, solve, prove, and create tomorrow is unlimited.

Resources and Tools for Science Fair Coordinators, Judges, and Teachers

In support of the inclusion of engineering design projects in science fair competitions, Science Buddies Teacher and Science Fair Resources include tools and materials to help students incorporate both the scientific and engineering methods in their classrooms.

See the following resources:


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With the third Iron Man movie coming to the big screen next week, now is a great time to spark science and engineering excitement among student fans.

Science Projects Related to Iron Man movie

With Marvel's Iron Man 3 hitting theaters on May 3, excitement among sci-fi fans is mounting. Whether you are a long-time follower of Iron Man or are just getting acquainted with Tony Stark and his series of high-tech, high-flying suits, the momentum of the coming release is palpable. If you are anxiously awaiting the next Iron Man movie installment, you can build on the anticipation by thinking through, talking about, and, even better, diving in and exploring some of the science at the heart of the movie. There is plenty of it!

The Iron Man storyline is steeped in science, which gives you and your older kids multiple science angles to consider as you wait for opening weekend. Tying science to pop culture is often a good way to get kids hooked and to inspire them to see the ways in which what they see and love on screen, in a game, or in a comic or book is connected to real-world principles of physics, engineering, technology, robotics, chemistry, biotechnology, and more. In other words, when science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are on screen, the stars might be all lined up to spark scientific inquiry of quantum proportions!

Note: The Iron Man movies are rated PG-13. Parents should use their own discretion to evaluate suitability of the movies for their children. Parents can learn more about suggested viewing at Common Sense Media.


Science: The Allure of Iron Man

My own kids were too young the first time around, so Iron Man and Iron Man 2 passed me by. But age aside, other than Professor X and his school for "gifted students" (AKA mutants), my kids have always been oddly and concertedly anti-superhero. Spiderman. Superman. Incredible Hulk. Green Lantern. Batman. None of these characters (all of which I grew up with) ever really grabbed their imagination. Astro Boy, maybe. But not the classic comic book super heroes, big screen or not.

With Iron Man 3 coming, I wanted to catch up on the movie storyline firsthand. We settled in to watch Iron Man and Iron Man 2, and we are hooked, palladium arc reactor, jet-propulsion system, head-up display, house AI system, and all.

We watched the movies out of order, and it wasn't far into Iron Man (which we saw second) that my oldest said, "I like Iron Man because the science is believable." Bingo! Having recently helped pull together some Iron Man-related Project Ideas from the deep library of hands-on science projects and activities at Science Buddies, his words seemed right on target.

While the science may not all be "real," translated to mean currently in use today, the science may be real "enough" to captivate budding engineers, technologists, physicists, and computer programmers. Real enough. Possible. Grounded. And that's just it, isn't it? Part of the appeal for much of the audience who responds to the things Tony Stark builds and to the way he talks about engineering, physics, the suit, and the arc reactor may be that Tony Stark makes science very, very cool. Plus, as he says in one of the Iron Man 3 trailers on the Marvel movie site, "I'm Tony Stark. I build neat stuff. I've got a great girl and, occasionally, save the world."


Tying Real Science to the Big Screen

Science Buddies knows that the secret to getting some students engaged with science is meeting them where they are and tying hands-on science exploration to an area of personal interest. For students who are into the world of Iron Man, there are plenty of angles to explore and plenty of room to experiment. Build a mini arc reactor for the science fair? Probably not. Land in the middle of the science fair in a jet powered mini Iron Man suit like in the clever Verizon FiOS video? Maybe not. But explore the kinds of engineering that go into designing a robot, from considerations about the anatomy (and what the robot needs to "do") to programming a robot using servo motors and Arduino—absolutely! You might not be able to build your own particle accelerator and create a new element. But building a cloud chamber and seeing evidence of radioactive particles flying through the air can open their eyes and clue students in to what's all around us. Or explore magnetic acceleration stages with a cool DIY gizmo like a Gauss rifle.

See our full list of science, technology, and engineering project tie-ins for Iron Man fans for suggestions to help you and your students delve deeper into the science at the core of the Iron Man saga.


Engineering Design Process in Action

Watching Iron Man, I was struck by the moment when Stark, a prisoner, shows Yinsen, another captive, a series of drawings on paper. Like a series of transparencies, when the schematics are stacked up and pressed together, Stark's vision for the first Iron Man suit comes together in one visible and awesome whole. From there, the movie—and the evolution of Iron Man—unfolds. That moment also highlights something important that underwrites the story—with every step he takes in developing "Iron Man," Stark puts the engineering design process in action.

Stark's development of the Iron Man suit's flight system is a great example of the engineering process. His initial flight system helps him escape, but it's a rudimentary system, and he crash lands. Back in his lab, with his assemblage of handy robots to help, Stark gets to work refining the system. He knows what he "needs," and he knows what went wrong with the first suit and the leg-mounted jets. He prototypes a new system with feet and hand repulsors. And then he tests. And he tests again. At each stage, there are refinements to make based on testing data. And with each set of refinements, he gets closer to his goal. When he gets over-eager and takes the suit for a real-world flight, he discovers another critical flaw in the design—the effects of extreme temperature. The need to safeguard against this weakness leads to the creation of a new suit using a different metal.

If we recast the scenes of the suit's creation and testing into the steps of the design process, we see the following stages:

  • Define the Problem: needs the ability to fly
  • Do Background Research: initial, ad hoc attempt led to crash-landing
  • Specify Requirements: able to be integrated in a suit, balanced, controlled landing, etc.
  • Build a Prototype: Stark builds a working model
  • Test and Redesign: he tests in the lab, redesigns, and then tests again and again

Talking with students about the stages of the engineering design process, and the ways in which Stark enacts those stages, is a great way to help students understand the engineering process, the importance of testing, and the sometimes cyclical process of prototyping, testing, prototyping again, and retesting.


Exclusive Iron Man Video Trailer—Coming April 29!

Stay tuned on the Science Buddies Facebook page for information about an exclusive Iron Man 3 video trailer from Verizon FiOS. Watch the exclusive Iron Man 3 footage on April 29! For every view, Verizon FiOS will donate $0.01 to Science Buddies.

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Community Support for Science


A grant from the Cisco Foundation put Science Buddies on the ground floor of Bayside STEM Academy's annual science fair. Science Buddies partnered with the middle school throughout their science fair season, culminating in Science Buddies staff visiting the school to judge the school's science and engineering exhibition.

Science Fair Project Display Boards at Bayside STEM Academy annual science fair
STEM has become an acronym of national importance, but the local school science fair is a testament to the fact that the need for science education exists in every community, in every school, and for every student. Thanks to organizations like Cisco, the STEM efforts at local schools like Bayside STEM Academy are being recognized and supported.


Thanks to support from Cisco Systems, Inc., Science Buddies provided support and a team of volunteer judges for Bayside STEM Academy's science fair. "Science Buddies proved a valuable resource in the success of our school's science/STEM fair," says James Brunner, a teacher at Bayside STEM Academy.

STEM has become a national acronym, but the local school science fair is a reminder that the need for science education exists in every community, in every school, and for every student. Thanks to community businesses and organizations like Cisco, the STEM efforts at schools like Bayside STEM Academy are being recognized and supported.

With its massive library of Project Ideas and extensive Project Guide that helps students at all levels with the steps of a science project, Science Buddies serves more than fifteen million people a year. This number, and the nonprofit's popularity with teachers, students, and parents, continues to grow as more and more emphasis is placed on science, technology, engineering, and math education in K-12 classrooms and at home.

Thanks to ongoing outreach projects and its many support-oriented resources, including the Ask an Expert forums, Science Buddies is in constant contact with members of the Science Buddies community at various stages of their projects, science fair planning, and classroom science integration. Visibility into both student science project successes and stumbling blocks helps Science Buddies continually refine, update, and expand science education offerings and programs as the organization responds to increasing demand for more hands-on science opportunities, activities, and resources.

Although myriad science learning opportunities may exist for K-12 students, both in class, at home, and after school, the school "science fair" remains a cornerstone of hands-on science education for many grade school students. Both at home and as part of in-class computer time, Science Buddies is a prime destination for students during science fair season. Whether students need help finding a project, determining their variables, setting up a project display board, or navigating other steps of the scientific method or engineering design process, Science Buddies strives to help students complete successful science projects and have positive science experiences.


Field Work

Each year during science fair season, Science Buddies staff members visit local fairs, an important step in staying in touch with how real students, real teachers, and real schools are responding to the national STEM challenge. This year, staff members had the opportunity to be in the field as they volunteered, as a group, to judge the annual science fair at Bayside STEM Academy, a public middle school in San Mateo, CA. The school's curriculum focuses on the intersection between science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and an approach they call "design thinking," a methodology they believe breeds innovators and creative problem solvers.

As its name underscores, Bayside STEM Academy is a science-focused school. The importance of STEM and creative thinking and problem solving is central to the school's belief system, pedagogy, and core offerings. Not surprisingly, the whole school participates during science fair season. Every Bayside student—6th, 7th, and 8th grade—completes a science project. The top forty projects from each grade are then exhibited at the school's science fair.

This year, a grant from Cisco Systems, Inc. enabled Science Buddies to team with Bayside STEM Academy to further support the school's science fair efforts and to attend the fair and judge the student exhibits.


Science Fair Season

A school's science fair often spans a few days. Students set up their projects, and judges review all entries and determine the winners. Then the doors are opened, and the community is invited to come and see the collective exhibition of student science and engineering exploration and acumen. The public viewing may be a period of hours or days, but during this time, the student body, parents, and the community at large have the opportunity to be inspired and excited by the work of local students and teachers.


Science Buddies staff helped judge the Bayside STEM Academy science fair
Pictured above, Michelle Maranowski, staff scientist at Science Buddies, takes a closer look at a student science project on display at the Bayside STEM Academy science fair during project judging.

"Science Buddies proved a valuable resource in the success of our school's science/STEM fair," says James Brunner, a teacher at Bayside STEM Academy.

The actual fair may seem to be over in a blink, but students, teachers, and administrators often spend many months planning and preparing for the fair. The students at Bayside STEM Academy worked on their projects from mid-August through the first week of December. Throughout the fall semester, teachers and students at Bayside STEM Academy used Science Buddies resources to support the science fair process. Of the science projects on display at the Bayside science fair, approximately half were based on or inspired by Science Buddies project ideas.

In addition to their students' use of the Topic Selection Wizard, Project Directory, and Project Guide, the school used the Science Fair Schedule Worksheet to help plan and schedule the fair. According to James Brunner, a teacher at Bayside STEM, this year's science fair was so successful that they plan to hold a fair again next year and will use Science Buddies resources again both for student projects and for fair organization and planning. "We all [the teachers at Bayside] felt that Science Buddies was a big help to our students," says Brunner.


STEM in Action

"James Brunner and the teachers at Bayside STEM are a proven example of successful science fair organization and implementation," says Claire Hubbard, Science Buddies Product Design Engineer. "The teachers used Science Buddies resources to plan and conduct their science fair, in addition to using Science Buddies Project Ideas to inspire their students."

Hubbard worked as closely with Bayside STEM Academy during their science fair season and coordinated the team of Science Buddies volunteers who visited the science fair to judge the student projects. Hubbard has interviewed and observed numerous teachers and students regarding STEM education and the use of Science Buddies resources. The Bayside STEM Academy science fair gave her a chance to witness the impact of hands-on science and the resources and Project Ideas at Science Buddies on a larger scale—a school rather than a class or an individual finding and doing a science project.


Reinforcing the Value of Science Exploration

In the past, Bayside STEM Academy's science fair has been judged by parents and teachers. Having Science Buddies visit the fair was a welcome change, says Brunner. "It was very refreshing and unique to have Science Buddies' staff members involved with the judging this year."

"A huge thank you to Cisco for making our partnership with Bayside STEM Academy possible," says Hubbard. "It was a wonderful and unique opportunity to see our resources in action, first-hand."

For other Science Buddies staff members, being part of Bayside STEM Academy's science fair was equally rewarding. "It was a great opportunity to be at ground level of the work we are doing at Science Buddies," said Sabine Duke, Chief Controller for Science Buddies. Sandra Slutz, Lead Staff Scientist at Science Buddies concurs. "Attending Bayside's science and engineering fair was a true pleasure. Yes, seeing Science Buddies projects, which there were many of, as well as some creative original projects, in action is always heart-warming, but the real satisfaction came in seeing that the students had done what we always aim for Science Buddies users to do: they'd taken the project and invested their own time, energy, and intellect."

Slutz, who has judged numerous local, regional, and international science fairs notes that the showing at Bayside STEM Academy was inspiring and a positive reminder of the importance of hands-on science in the classroom. "It was clear that the Bayside teachers had motivated and supported their students, enabling them to not just "do a project" but, more importantly, to springboard from the Science Buddies resources to research, digest the background information, and understand their experiment and the scientific principles behind it," says Slutz. "From the projects displayed, you could see that both students and teachers had invested genuine effort, and they deserve a huge round of applause for their achievements."


Cisco Foundation is a Copernicus sponsor of Science Buddies.

Photographs used in this story were taken by Sabine Dukes, Science Buddies.

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Frankenstorm Science: Hurricane Sandy


Students of all ages may be hearing and seeing news about Hurricane Sandy. Even in the aftermath of the storm, talking about hurricanes with your students helps them better understand the science involved.


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(Image: NASA GOES Project)

Students curious about hurricanes like Sandy—or interested in why this week's tropical storm was unusual and how it differed from past storms—can explore further in one of several science fair Project Ideas at Science Buddies.

Hurricane Sandy rose on the tail end of the typical hurricane season, just in time for Halloween, which quickly spawned the freakily apt moniker: Frankenstorm. Sandy uses the 'S' next in line for naming this season's tropical storms, but given the monstrous devastation caused by the storm, 'Frankenstorm' fits. Depending on where you hear it explained or contextualized, the Mary Shelley character allusion comes into play either as a virtue of timing with the one day of the year in which things dark, scary, and otherworldly roam or you may have heard the allusion in tribute to the fact that this storm was made up of different parts—part hurricane, part winter storm. Throw in the influence of the full moon on the 29th, and all the makings were there for an eerie storm of epic proportion. Similar to the storm of 1991, in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy moving onshore, meteorologists were already predicting a 'perfect storm.'


Making Connections

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy's devastating passage through the northeast, images and stories of massive destruction in states like New Jersey tell a frightening tale. As cleanup and recovery efforts continue, classrooms and families watching from afar may find the following Project Ideas helpful as a way to talk more about hurricanes, about the ingredients of a storm, about historical storm cycles, and about questions related to climate change, an angle of the storm that has been raised in numerous articles and news reports in relation to Sandy:

  • Hurricanes and Climate: use historical data to evaluate and compare hurricane seasons.
  • Do Hurricanes Cool the Ocean?: use meteorological and hurricane track data to explore the relationship between a hurricane and the temperature of the surrounding waters.
  • Hurricanes *: Starting point for an independent research project.

A Closer Look

In a research project, John Nelson plotted tropical storms of record since 1851. Documenting 160 years of storms in a single image, the project yielded a fascinating image that shows the composite history and geographic occurrence of hurricanes in the timeframe and, at the same time, resembles a storm.

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In an essay he wrote as part of an application for a science scholarship offered by Bio-Rad Laboratories, this high school senior highlights the importance of hands-on science. Walk into his lab, through his words, and see the shine of his drive, determination, and passion for science.


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Jacob Saldinger found a testing ground for his science exploration in a corner of his garage. Jacob is the recipient of the Ron Mardigan scholarship, awarded by Bio-Rad Laboratories. (Image: Bigstock)
When it came to finding a way to actively explore science, Jacob Saldinger took matters—and part of the family garage—into his own hands. Jacob, who has a makeshift science lab in his garage, is the recipient of the 2012 Ron Mardigan Memorial Scholarship, an award Bio-Rad Laboratories gives annually to a graduating senior.

In his essay application for the scholarship, Jacob draws readers into his lab and talks about the need for hands-on science exploration to support student interest in science and science literacy. Jacob speaks from experience, the experience of an aspiring scientist who wants more. Unfortunately, Jacob says that hands-on science was not a primary focus at his high school, although he notes that his teachers incorporated some "excellent labs" to reinforce course materials. "I remember particularly [that] the labs we did while we were learning about acids and bases (titrations and such) were particularly helpful to me in [visualizing] what we had learned in the classroom," he says. His last science fair project was in the fifth grade, but he remembers it well. "Back then I had a really cool project where I grew bacteria cultures of my teachers' desks."

As Jacob's essay explains, a thirst for more hands-on science led him to the garage, a move his parents supported. "My parents trust that I will be safe in my experiments and encourage me to develop myself scientifically. My dad, a doctor, has particularly helped my scientific studies. Even from a young age, some of my earliest memories with him are of the ever-famous vinegar and baking soda volcano and throwing dry ice in the toilet to watch the CO2 bubbles. Even today, we still listen to NPR's 'Science Friday' together, and he emails me articles he thinks I'll find interesting."

Jacob's success, determination, and zest for scientific inquiry are inspiring. When asked what advice he would offer other students who are interested in pursuing science careers and applying for science-focused awards, Jacob says it boils down to doing what you love—not just what you can put on an application. "I found the things which I did because I truly enjoyed them (and often had no intention of putting on an application), such as my homemade lab, were the things which I ended up emphasizing to define myself." Numerous other activities he was involved in ended up being left off the application, he says. "Whether it's college or awards like this, there are going to be some happy outcomes where you'll be far happier if you do what you enjoy—and disappointing ones where you'll be far more upset if you spent high school trying to make yourself look good on paper."

Here is the text of Jacob's award-winning essay:




A Scientific Method



    In the corner of the garage, behind the shelves and tools, on a workbench next to some dusty old textbooks sits an important piece of my life. Science inhabits this corner: a kitchen hot plate, a propane torch, cheap glassware, chemicals found in a hardware store, and one copy of An Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments. Above my "lab" hangs a poster of the periodic table. For years, this poster adorned the wall above my bed. As a kindergartener, I fell asleep memorizing the symbols, numbers, and weights. As I grew up, however, my interest expanded beyond just numbers, names, and abstract concepts. Empiricism created my interest in science.


    Because I had an opportunity to play and experiment with science on my own, my interest and love of science grew. Similarly for others, experimentation and observation can bring science books and the periodic table to life. Science is not a test, a grade, or a contest, but rather a fun engaging activity. This empiricism turns formulas and ideas into reality. I enjoy spending weekends mixing chemicals in my garage "laboratory"; it's fun to experiment and see what happens! Perhaps if others also had the chance to see this side, more would be interested and participate in science.


    My experiences with empiricism cemented my desire to learn the sciences. In my early teens I constructed a laboratory from an empty table in the garage. It soon became a significant part of my teenage years. At the beginning, I primarily sought a reaction. I considered any change sufficient proof that the acid and the base were capable of doing "something" or that "somehow" a battery transferred metal through water. Yet my interest to learn more and to learn why, compelled me to study chemistry, both in school and on my own. Thus, empiricism creates a reason to learn science and makes it applicable. Perhaps if we encouraged students to try their hand with experimentation, more would consider pursuing science.


    I created and defined my world of science with empiricism. Likewise, these experiments can introduce and interest others in virtually all fields of science. Unfortunately, however, with today's emphasis on test scores, schools forgo many laboratory experiments and simply pretend that science can be contained in a textbook. Science is hands-on exploration. We shouldn't be afraid to push ourselves: the difficulty, the complications, and the troubleshooting are part of the fun. Last summer, I participated in a biology internship at University of California, Berkeley. I studied the interactions between the kit and noggin proteins. Although I did not understand all the science at this advanced level and the work was challenging, sometimes requiring us to throw away weeks of work for a simple mistake, it changed my perception of biology. What was once a mundane discipline of rote memorization became a vibrant, useful, and relevant science.


    In order to move ahead in the 21st century we must create a greater interest in science. To do this, we must emphasize the empirical aspects of science. Science is not just a class. Let's open opportunities to experiment and explore.


Jacob says he is particularly interested in chemistry, but he adds that the biology internship during the summer before his senior year whetted his interest in life sciences. He currently plans to explore biochemistry as he begins his undergraduate research at Rice University in Houston, TX.

Science Buddies thanks Jacob for allowing us to share his essay on the Science Buddies website. We extend our congratulations to him, and we look forward to hearing about the scientific path he takes.






Science Buddies Project Ideas in Biotechnology Techniques are sponsored by support from Bio-Rad Laboratories and its Biotechnology Explorer program.

Biotechnology Explorer

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Intel ISEF Winners Named


Winners of the 2012 Intel ISEF have been named and the confetti thrown! Science Buddies is proud to find some of our student success stories and student volunteers among the winners.


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2012 Intel ISEF winners of the Gordon E. Moor Award and the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award. Source: Society for Science & the Public

This year's top Intel ISEF winner and recipient of the Gordon E. Moore Award is Jack Andraka. The fifteen year old from Crownsville, MD, won first place for his research on the detection of pancreatic cancer. Jack developed and tested a "dip-stick sensor" test that can be used for early detection of pancreatic cancer.

Nicholas Schiefer (Pickering, Ontario, Canada) and Ari Dyckovsky (Leesburg, VA) were each named recipients of the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award. Nicholas' computer science research is on search engine technology. Ari's research is on quantum teleportation.


Science Buddies' Connections

Science Buddies extends special congratulations to Nithin Tumma, Christina Ren, and Travis Sigafoos.

  • Nithin, winner of the 2012 Intel Science Talent Search, won 2nd place at Intel ISEF in Cellular and Molecular Biology for his project, "Elucidating Pathways in Cancer Pathogenesis." Nithin, a senior at Port Huron Northern High School in Port Huron, MI, was previously a high school volunteer mentor for the Science Buddies Ask an Expert forums and was named the Craig Sander Outstanding Mentor last year.
  • Christina won 3rd place in Medicine and Health Sciences for her project, "The Effect of Deer Antler on the Proliferation of Endothelial Cells in vitro." Christina, a sophomore at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA, has been working with Bio-Rad Laboratories' Donna Hardy, a long-time volunteer Expert in the Science Buddies Ask an Expert forums.
  • Travis won 3rd place in Behavioral and Social Sciences for his project, "Spectrum of Triangulation: ADHD, Circadian Rhythmicity, and Bipolar Symptoms." Travis, a senior at Champlin Park High School in Champlin, MN, is a current high school volunteer mentor for Science Buddies Ask an Expert forums.

While we are especially proud to see our student volunteers and students who are working with Science Buddies' mentors succeed, with over 1500 student science projects on display at the Intel ISEF this year, every student who attended deserves recognition and congratulations.


(For more about Intel ISEF, the Science Buddies Summer Fellows Program, and the importance of celebrating science successes big and small, see "Celebrating Student Science.")





Bio-Rad Laboratories is the sponsor of the Biotechnology Techniques interest area at Science Buddies.

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Celebrating Student Science


The 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) kicks off today! According to the Society for Science & the Public, more than 1,500 high school students from all over the world will be on hand in Pittsburgh this week to show off their projects and compete for more than three million dollars in awards.


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Blake and Matthew, winners of the 2011 Intel ISEF, are featured on the cover of this year's Intel ISEF program.

To follow along with this week's Intel ISEF proceedings, tune in to the following sites, galleries, and social media streams:

Students who qualify to attend the Intel ISEF represent the pinnacle of this year's student research and innovation. The path to the Intel ISEF is often a long road of research, experimentation, and a chain of fairs beginning with a local or school fair. For those who compete in advanced competitions like the Intel ISEF, the Intel Science and Talent Search, or the Broadcom MASTERS, public recognition tends to follow. These students' stories make the local papers and news reports, and when the winners are announced at the Intel ISEF later this week, names, schools, research topics, and prize amounts will buzz through social media streams as we all celebrate the top of the top in K-12 science.


More than Makes the Board

The stories behind the projects on display are often wonderful and engaging dramas that represent the highs and lows of the scientific process. The project display boards lining the exhibition center in Pittsburgh, PA this week showcase each project along a defined set of points that follow the scientific method. From across the room, you might be able to read the project's title. At closer range, you can peruse the hypothesis, conclusion, and summary data charts, but there is often much more to the story than can be contained in the standard 36" x 48" trifold board—more science and more human interest.


The Student Behind the Science Project

The sophisticated projects on display at a fair like the Intel ISEF are not always ones immediately accessible to the general audience. These are not your average school science fair projects, but the students behind them, the students answering questions from judges and passersby, the students passionate about their area of research, their findings, and the possible future applications of their work are still students. When given a bit more attention and depth, students' stories, like those chronicled in Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch... and What It Takes to Win, by Judy Dutton or the WhizKids documentary, offer readers and viewers an inside look at what it is like to be a top student science student, where these students find inspiration for their ideas and projects, and what it feels like to compete on a global level. These stories are often inspiring, eye-opening, and, at times, heartwrenching.



Stories Big and Small

Many of these stories represent the epitome of scientific achievement among K-12 students, but stories of scientific accomplishment unfold every day at schools and science fairs around the country. We hope you spotted write-ups of local fair winners in your area over the last few months. We hope that your student's science fair was well-attended, well-supported by the local community, and that the students who participated got the chance for their hard work to shine, regardless of whether or not a ribbon was awarded. We hope that your student learned something from her project or explored a new area of science. Maybe the process sparked interest in asking another question, researching another angle, or simply participating again next year with another science investigation.

To every student that conducted a science project this year, to every student that put the scientific method in action, to every student that learned something, hands-on, about a scientific principle, we say congratulations!


Make a note!

Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch... and What It Takes to Win, by Judy Dutton, tells the story of a number of top science fair participants. This is a great summer read for parents, teachers, and students!


We'll be watching as this year's Intel ISEF unfolds over the next few days. It's an exciting event, and Science Buddies staff will be meeting with many students who are presenting. There will be astounding projects on display, and we know the stories behind those projects may be equally inspiring and exciting. But we are excited by all of your stories and successes, and we are proud to be an integral and trusted resource for students looking for science project ideas and for science project information and for teachers, organizations, and parents who are dedicated to encouraging and supporting science, technology, education, and math education (STEM). Every science project can make a difference in a student's approach to science.


A Local Fair

The Contra Costa County Science & Engineering Fair (CCCSEF) is developing a track record for showcasing and recognizing projects that go on to succeed at higher-level competitions. In 2011, the winners of CCCSEF, Blake Marggraff and Matthew Feddersen, went on to sweep top honors at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Blake and Matthew then joined Science Buddies in the summer of 2011 as part of our first group of Summer Fellows. You can learn more about their research and winning project in this write-up that documents how their weekend experiments evolved into the construction of a homemade X-ray machine—and the grand prize at the 2011 Intel ISEF.

This year, the students moving on to the 2012 Intel ISEF by virtue of top placement at CCCSEF are Christina Ren (10th grade, Monte Vista High School), Eric Sauer (11th grade, Dougherty Valley High School), and Raymond Zhu (12th Grade, Monte Vista High School). Other winners at the 2012 CCCSEF went on to show their projects at Broadcom MASTERS and at the California State Science Fair. Aryo Sorayya, an 11th grade student at Monte Vista High School, displayed his project, "Overcoming the Cold Chain: Designing a Novel Freeze-Stable Vaccine," at CCCSEF and went on to be named the grand-prize winner last week at the 61st California State Science Fair.

Over the last several years, CCCSEF coordinators have watched the fair continue to grow, a trend celebrated and encouraged by support from the community, including organizations like Chevron and Bio-Rad Laboratories, both of which issue special awards at the fair. This year, Matthew Brewer and Brooke Parker, students at Acalanes High School, won Chevron Innovation and John Muir Health special awards for their team project, "Effectiveness of Acne Vulgaris Treatments Using EColi Bacteria." Tiffany Zhou, a student at Heritage High School, and a student mentor in the Science Buddies Ask an Expert forums, received a Chevron Innovation award for her project, "Investigating Biocontrol of Canker Diseases." Other winners of Chevron Innovation awards include: Nicholas Kaufman (NorthCreek Aacademy), Zidaan Dutta (Pine Valley Middle School), and Zachary Cannon (NorthCreek Academy).

Bio-Rad Laboratories special awards were presented to Raymond Zhu (Monte Vista High School) for his project, "Evaluating the interaction between LRRK2 and NMAP as a pathway to neuronal degeneration in Parkinson's Disease," and to Dhuvarakesh Karthikeyan (Iron Horse Middle School) for "MFCs-Step 1 to self-sufficient planet."






Chevron is the sponsor of the Geology interest area at Science Buddies.

Bio-Rad Laboratories is the sponsor of the Biotechnology Techniques interest area.


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Nithin Tumma, a previous student mentor at Science Buddies, wins Intel Science Talent Search for cancer research project.

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Nithin Tumma, winner of this year's Intel Science Talent Search

Each year, thousands of students complete science projects and participate in science fairs around the country—and around the world. With the national spotlight on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education fueled by the Educate to Innovate campaign, Change the Equation, and the Google Science Fair, now in its second year, the science fair scene is evolving, but there are two competitions in the U. S. that stand among all others as pinnacles of science success: the Intel Science Talent Search (STS) and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

The winners of this year's Intel Science Talent Search were announced last week, and Science Buddies was thrilled to learn that the top award went to Nithin Tumma, a senior at Port Huron Northern High School in Port Huron, Michigan. There were cheers all around when we heard the news because Nithin volunteered at Science Buddies as a high school mentor in our Ask an Expert forum last year and won the Craig Sander Outstanding Mentor Award for his contributions.


Advanced Student Science

Nithin's project for this year's Intel Science Talent Search deals with slowing the growth of breast cancer cells, a step which may aid in treating the disease. "I studied protein interactions during the progression of leukemia and breast cancer," explains Nithin, "and discovered possible therapeutic targets to slow the growth and spreading of the cancers."

His project built upon research he began working on last summer at Stony Brook University as a Simons Fellow. Prior to his Stony Brook fellowship, Nithin was a finalist at ISEF three years in a rows and won Best of Category and first place honors in the Cellular and Molecular Biology category last year for his project, "Identifying Novel Mechanisms of Cytochrome-P450 2E1 Regulation," a study of the ways in which insulin or metformin (two drugs commonly used to treat Type 2 diabetes) alters Cyp2E1, a liver enzyme that helps eliminate carcinogens.

In a letter Nithin wrote last year after his ISEF success, he put his own cumulative science fair experience in perspective. "Science fairs provide an opportunity to experience learning on a different level, a hands on approach that helps develop a deep, true understanding of subject matter. The topics that I know the most about are the topics that I have spent time researching, from global warming in seventh grade to the connections between diabetes and liver cancer, my current study."

This year, he adds breast cancer to the list of topics in which he has immersed himself with advanced student science projects and joins an elite group of young scientists who have been named finalists and winners of the Intel Science Talent Search.

"When I heard, I was totally taken aback," says Nithin. "I had no idea that I would win, and I truly think that any of the 40 kids just as easily could have taken home the first prize. At first I was shocked, then elated as it started to sink in."


Commitment to Science

While community service is increasingly valued among high school students (and incoming student admissions boards), not all students engaged in advanced research and preparing for top-level competition have time for one in-depth community project, much less several. Nithin has devoted time and energy to fostering science education in his community, to volunteering at Science Buddies, and to restoring historical and cultural landmarks as part of his work with the Port Huron Museum.

Passionate about science and the importance of high school science, Nithin didn't sit quietly when his local science fair disbanded due to funding and participation issues. Wanting to encourage advanced science activity at the student level—and hoping to foster interest in science among middle school students—Nithin started a science club at a local middle school. The club meets twice a month, beginning at the start of the school year, and encourages students to work on year-long science projects. In its first year, Nithin was excited to find that he had tapped into a wealth of interest in science. Students wanted an avenue for pursuing in-depth research and showcasing it at a fair. "We ended up having about 45 projects to present at a district science fair that I help set up," says Nithin.

He credits mentoring at Science Buddies as a student Expert in the Ask an Expert volunteer program with helping him recognize and understand the "teacher" within him. His experience at Ask an Expert, he says, also helped him better articulate science—both his own and scientific concepts he spent time explaining in answering questions from other students.


A Glimpse at Tomorrow

In an announcement of the winners issued by Intel, Wendy Hawkins asks... which of the 40 finalists from this years STS will go on to someday win a Nobel Prize? With the kind of talent, research, and dedication demonstrated by Nithin and other STS finalists this year, it is a question of merit and one supported by the growing list of past STS participants who have gone on to win Nobel Prizes. It's an impressive group. As Hawkins wrote: "We do know that the 40 finalists assembled here this week are well on their way to becoming science game changers. They are talented, brilliant, passionate, and they are able to communicate that passion and the science they care so deeply about to others in terms we can all understand—a necessary talent for an aspiring scientist."

We at Science Buddies are proud to have young scientists like Nithin as part of our team of volunteers!

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Jackie, a tenth grade student and avid Girl Scout, is on a dual-headed quest to spark excitement about science in middle school students—and to earn the Girl Scouts' highest award.

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Jackie Rapport (pictured above) presented her plan for a county-wide science fair to her school's advisory board and to the Girl Scout Council. To read about other inspiring student and teacher science project successes, visit the Science Buddies in Action page!
When you think of Girl Scouts, you may immediately think of favorite cookies from yearly cookie sales, or maybe the familiar green uniform and patch-emblazoned sashes come to mind, a visual mark both of membership and of commitment. While cookie sales and badges are hallmarks of the organization, for many young women, being a Girl Scout is an important and formative activity, one that often begins in elementary school and continues for many years. Part social and part social responsibility, Girl Scouts enjoy the camaraderie of being part of a group and, at the same time, they engage in a variety of activities and challenges that help build confidence, self-esteem, leadership skills, and social awareness. With "Be prepared" as their motto and "Do a good turn daily" as their slogan, the Girl Scout organization and experience encourages young women to make positive contributions to society. It's been their mission since the founding in 1912, and with a membership of more than 3.2 million, the Girl Scouts are making a difference in communities around the world.

For Girl Scouts who continue throughout their high school years, the quest to earn a Gold Award, the Girl Scouts' highest honor, presents a wonderful opportunity for senior scouts to channel leadership, personal passion, and social commitment into a community issue.


Meeting a Community Need

The journey to a Gold Award begins with a scout identifying a community issue that she cares about and then finding a way to approach that issue to make a positive contribution and a difference. Previous scouts have received the Gold Award for projects ranging from a public service announcement campaign designed to increase awareness of teen suicide to a local environmental restoration and conservation project that aimed to protect a rare species of salamander.

For Jackie Rapport, a tenth grade student in New Jersey, the path to a possible Gold Award took root in her love of science. Joining what has become a national campaign to increase science literacy among U.S. students, Jackie set out to create a science fair for 6th-8th graders in her area.


Why Start Another Science Fair?

"I'm very interested in science, and I wanted to do a Gold Project for Girl Scouts," explains Jackie. "I became aware that U.S. students are not being prepared for careers in science, engineering, and math, and that the President has challenged us to increase interest in science in young people." A student at the Health Science Academy (HSA), Jackie wanted to find a way to share her enthusiasm for science and science careers.

In the idea of a local science fair, she saw a perfect opportunity to meet the requirements for a Gold Project, a project for which a minimum of 80 hours of work is required, and to invest in a project she would enjoy and find personally rewarding. "Creating a county-wide science fair was a perfect opportunity to combine all of my goals," says Jackie.

Jackie participated in a science fair as a sixth grade student. While the fair was not judged, the experience—and the concept of a science fair—left an impression on her. She believes science fairs are important for students on many levels. "A science fair gives students the opportunity to become more immersed in science and [to] realize the different aspects that it takes to create a project," says Jackie. But participating in a science fair may offer other benefits as well. A science fair "helps students learn the scientific method, but also helps students develop communication skills, math skills, reading comprehension, time management, and ethics," Jackie adds.

Jackie's school, the Health Science Academy, is a new, public, college-preparatory high school, similar to other high schools in the area, but with one marked difference. Jackie's school specializes in health science.The school, run by Mercer County Technical Schools, is in its second formative year and currently consists of grades nine and ten. Grades eleven and twelve will be added over the next two years, with Jackie's class being the first graduating senior class.

"It is a small school of students interested in pursuing careers in medicine or health fields," explains Jackie, "so most students here know the importance of science." But Jackie realizes that not all students are as tuned in to science as her classmates at HSA. She hopes her science fair will spark interest in science among younger local students, a passion for science that may put them on a path to a science career.


Organizing a New Fair is Big Project

As Jackie has discovered, planning a science fair from the ground up is no small undertaking. From getting support and buy-in from her own school and approval from the Girl Scout Council to generating interest among students at local schools, setting up and running an information website, handling the planning logistics for the actual event, and procuring judges, organizing a science fair requires excellent time management skills, meticulous attention to detail, and unwavering commitment to the project.

The process can be daunting, but Science Buddies has a wealth of planning resources for fair coordinators, materials designed to help with every step of the planning process, from the initial overview to judging rubrics for use at the fair. According to Jackie, Science Buddies resources, including A Guide to Planning a Science Fair, were a "great first step" and gave her a concrete place from which to begin. The guide's comprehensive look at what is involved in creating and running a fair helped Jackie visualize her science fair in terms of the "big picture" and enabled her to create a step-by-step plan of action.

For Jackie, Science Buddies materials served as both a guide and a catalyst. Seeing the process broken down into concrete and actionable steps gave her confidence and encouraged her about the feasibility of starting a science fair as a Gold Project. "Science Buddies resources helped me make the decision to have a science fair," says Jackie. "The [Science Buddies website] stresses the value of science fairs and helped me realize that it would be possible for me to create one."

With the idea of creating a local fair in place, and with Science Buddies resources on hand to aid in planning, Jackie moved on to the next phase: getting approval and local support. "My next step was to develop a proposal for Girl Scouts and to get approval from my mentor, advisor, council, and school. The Girl Scout Gold process was extensive," explains Jackie. "I had to outline my project, plans, budget, and more. Then, I had to present and defend the project before getting approved."

For a tenth grader, the planning stages required an immense amount of work, outside of regular coursework and activities. Deciding to have a science fair was only the beginning of Jackie's Gold Award journey. With a blueprint for the fair in place—and approval for the project from the Girl Scout Council—the rest of the work involved began in earnest.


The Value of Community Involvement

While Jackie is spearheading the science fair, organizing a fair requires the support and involvement of a number of people in the community. According to Jackie, the teachers and administration at her school have been supportive of her Gold Award project. "My principal, Lucille Jones, [has been] instrumental," says Jackie, noting that the principal helped arrange for a local community college to host the awards ceremony this spring. "My school advisor for the project, Ron Tarchichi, is my microbiology teacher and the school's Vice Principal," continues Jackie. "He gave me insights in developing my proposal." She goes on to list the contributions of other individual teachers, some of whom have agreed to help as judges, others to whom she has turned for advice and support. Jackie has also received help from other students, parents, and even Boy Scouts in the area. In addition to support from her school and community, Jackie acknowledges the support of her Girl Scout troop, 71452, and, in particular, Cathi Macheda, the leader of Jackie's troop and project mentor for her Gold Award initiative.

Jackie views the fair as one "for students by students" and has spent time getting her classmates excited about the fair and recruiting them into volunteer roles. For example, while she has secured a line-up of judges comprised of professionals and experts in health, science, and education, each group of judges will also include a tenth grade student from her school. She hopes that being a part of the fair in this way will serve as a learning opportunity for her classmates as well as encourage social responsibility among her peers.


Supporting Science at the Middle School Level

For Jackie, holding a fair targeted for middle school students is especially important because she believes students in grades six, seven, and eight are just beginning to consider their careers. As they also evaluate their options for high school, Jackie hopes to inspire interest for her school and for the sciences through the fair.

There are other science fairs in the area, including the Mercer Science and Engineering Fair, an ISEF-affiliated fair. Jackie's county-wide science fair will give students another opportunity to exhibit their science projects. Because her fair will take place after many of the local fairs, Jackie hopes students will take advantage of the timing to revise or correct problems that surfaced in a project exhibited at a local fair. Entering her fair offers students a second chance and another chance to win.

Jackie believes the idea of entering multiple fairs is advantageous for students. "Students will get more mileage from their projects," she says, "have more chances to win prizes and be acknowledged, and also have a chance to revise and improve their projects that may not have won in other fairs."


Gold-Level Effort

Many first-time science fair coordinators have found support at Science Buddies, but Jackie may be the first student that has used these materials to establish a fledgling science fair. When she emailed Science Buddies in August, she told us: "I am Jackie Rapport, a 10th grader, who is NOT doing a science fair project. Instead, I am creating a county-wide science fair for 6th through 8th graders, involving hundreds of students from dozens of public and private schools in Mercer County."

Jackie's initiative, determination, and self-motivation immediately caught our attention, and we have checked in with over the course of the year as she moved closer and closer to the fair's date. Her enthusiasm for her project has not wavered.

We hope Jackie's fair draws submissions from a number of local students and that the time and effort she's invested in helping support local science education results in a wonderful first showing for this new science fair. Jackie's fair is scheduled for April 28, 2012. To learn more about the fair, visit Jackie's fair website: www.sciencefair4all.webs.com




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Science Buddies encourages students to look for additional fairs, competitions, contests, they can enter—or special awards for which their projects may be eligible. Students in grades 6-12 who completed a food sciences, biotechnology, or chemistry project this year are invited to submit their projects for the Rosalind Franklin Chemistry Contest, sponsored by Science Buddies and the Astellas USA Foundation.

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Perfecting the Project Display Board


The project display board for a science project may be the last step before the fair, but don't underestimate its importance. Your display board may be one of hundreds on display. You want to make sure it summarizes your project and invites a viewer to stop and take a minute to learn more about your project, research, and conclusions.

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Creating a successful project display board takes time, but it's an important step! Our tips, tricks, and techniques help guide you through the process.
Wander the halls during a school science fair, or tour a local fair during public viewing hours, and you will see a range of project display boards. Most of them share a few basic parameters. For example, most use a tri-fold display board. Most will be the same, standard size. There are similarities, but what appears on the individual boards, and how students have chosen to showcase and summarize their science projects, visually, may run the gamut. Some will stand out for their crisp, clean, well-planned execution; some would benefit from a bit of design savvy; some will clearly suffer from a common "end of project" syndrome: too little time invested in the process.


The End is in Sight

Some students really enjoy the visual aspect of creating a display board. But for others, the project display board is not the most fun part of the science project process. It's certainly not the same as experimenting in the lab or testing electronics or physics projects in the garage. But the biggest factor working against the project display board for some students is that its construction mostly takes place at the end of the process. There's been hard work and testing involved, maybe spanning many days or weeks. Students may want to be "done" with the process, and yet there is one more step. It's a final step, but it's an extremely important step. When a student creates a project display board, she is putting together a visual representation of her entire project to share with an audience.


Highlighting Hard Work

One thing students should keep in mind is that a stunning and scientifically sound project, even a breakthrough one, needs to be supported by a compelling project display board. The "full package" mentality counts.

It makes sense, right? The display board is the first impression of your project that attendees will see. It is the chance they get to, in a nutshell, understand what question you asked, what hypothesis you proposed, and how things turned out. If they're captured by the combination of the board and the science it conveys, they might stop to ask questions, learn more, and further evaluate what you've done. They might notice you and your project. If the board lacks the design savvy necessary to garner that attention, you may find that you've lost out, in the end, simply because you didn't do the project and its results visual justice.

Sandra Slutz, Lead Staff Scientist at Science Buddies, has frequently served as a judge at local and national science fairs, including ISEF. She agrees that a poor board can spell disaster. "The whole point of a display board is to showcase your project," says Slutz. "The goal is to communicate clearly, efficiently, and precisely what you wanted to investigate, how you investigated it, what your results were, and your interpretation of those results. You can have the cleverest, interesting, and important research, but if you fail to communicate that because your board is incomplete, poorly organized, or hard to read, then you won't walk away with the first place prize."

With the importance of the project display board so clear, why do so many boards fall short of the mark? Many factors come into play. For some students, there's a lack of understanding about what makes a display board effective. For others, there's a lack of time. Whether they wait too late in the process to begin the board, or whether they simply fail to put in enough time to do a good job, rushing the process and cutting corners rarely results in a winning board.


Better Display Boards

Science Buddies has a full section of Project Display Board resources, suggestions, tips, tricks, and examples. Before you create your display board, you should review all of these pages so that you have a good idea of what you want to accomplish with your board—and how best to approach the process. Every student can create a solid display board if they keep certain guidelines in mind:

  • Plan your board. Take time to mock up or "storyboard" your Project Display board on a sheet of paper before you start printing or gluing anything in place. This will help you best determine how to use your available space and how to size the elements you plan to include. Tip: Take time to review the sample layout shown below. Print a copy and make notes to indicate what information you'll include in each section. Make a list of elements you need to type up, or photos you need to print out.

  • Know the size limitations. Most project display boards, like these from Elmer's, are 36" x 48". Oversized boards can be made by taking a modular approach and connecting more than one board, but keep in mind that you don't want your board too tall, too crowded, or with information too low to the ground to read. See Advanced Display Board Design and Tips for more information. Tip: Make sure you check your science fair guidelines for any specific limitations on size.

  • Choose the right title. Your title should be accurate for your project but should be catchy enough, or interesting enough, to make a viewer curious. Your title should also be big enough to be seen from a good distance—and in a color type and font face that is easy to read and stands out on your board. Tip: spend time brainstorming for the best title for your project. Come up with a list of possibilities before you decide.

  • Tell the whole story. Your board should contain all of the information required for a viewer to understand your project from start to finish. Our handy Project Display Checklist can help you keep track of what information should be on your board. Tip: print out a copy and check off each element as you put it in place.


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  • Make effective use of headlines and subheads. After a minute of looking at the board, the viewer should know what question you were researching, what you expected to happen, and how things turned out. In a short amount of time, the viewer will gather most of that information from headlines, photos, charts, and captions. The rest of the story is there, but pay attention to what someone can read by first reading all the headlines or subheads on the board. Test it yourself: JUST read the headlines and subheads on the draft of your board you've plotted on a sheet of paper or in your lab notebook. Include a summary of any photos. If necessary, take a blank sheet and job down the narrative you get by only reading those elements. Does the "summary" hold together?

  • Know your font sizes. A project display board headline needs to be read almost across the room. Other elements of the board should be clearly readable at arm's length or even by someone walking by. If your text is too small, a viewer won't be able to easily take in the information—and might not even try. Be sure and understand the difference in font size for headlines and subheads versus the rest of the text. Use your sizes consistently to help guide viewers through the material. A board that is easy to read—both in terms of color balance and font selection—can immediately earn attention points. "A catchy title with lettering I can read easily from 20 feet away really piques my interest and can make me hurry over to learn more," says Slutz. Tip: review the Everything You Need to Know About Fonts for Display Boards resource.

  • Remember the power of pictures. Photos and diagrams can quickly and efficiently convey information to a viewer—plus, they'll liven up your board! Just be sure to use relevant captions or subheads to further explain a photo's contents. And, don't put text on top of photos. It's hard to read! Tip: You want your board to be balanced. Use enough visual elements to help support and convey your information, but be careful not to make the board too cluttered.

  • Use quality materials. From self-standing display boards to heavier papers and quality adhesives, gathering your materials before you start can make the project display board process a smoother experience. Tip: Our shopping list will help you determine what you need. We recommend keeping plenty of glue sticks on hand!

  • Print your materials. Unless there is no alternative, don't hand-write elements for your display board. Use a word processing program to type up your information and headlines, and then print them out.

  • Don't wait until the last minute. Creating a good project display board takes time. Not only do you need to map out how you want your information to appear, but you'll need to create your diagrams, charts, images, and text blocks and print them out (in the right sizes) to assemble on your board. Planning ahead is really important. Remember: There is more to creating a successful project display board than just gluing some hand-written pieces of paper in place!


Take Pride In Your Science Project By Taking Time with Your Display Board

Take care in creating your project display board! You worked hard on the project, and you want to share your results with others. To do so effectively, you'll have to draw them in. Reviewing our resources, planning ahead, and remembering that the final step in the process can be the make-or-break step, can help make the time you spend working on your project display board both efficient and effective.

In the end, there's a bit of a trick to the process... your board has to be good enough and well-designed enough that the board itself is not what stands out—the science does. Says Slutz, "People always want to know 'what is the best board you've seen?' The truth is, I have no idea. I can give you a long list of awful ones! Ones where I couldn't read the text because the font was too difficult to read, or the display was covered in so many extra decorations that I couldn't find the information I was looking for, or the board was so tall that half of the sections were above my head, and I couldn't see them. The truth is, the best display boards I forget about, and instead I remember something far more exciting to me—the scienceonthe board. And really, that's the whole point."




Elmer's Logo
Elmer's Products Inc. is the official classroom sponsor of Science Buddies. For a full range of display boards and adhesives that can help as students get ready to showcase their science projects, visit Elmer's!

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Head's Up!


Ahhh.... the allure of the marshmallow shooter... I know it captivated my young Maker Faire attendees last spring... I know adult family members who send marshmallow launcher kits, right along with RC helicopters, model rockets, circuit kits, and solar-powered electronics projects. As this video from President Obama's tour of winning Google Science Fair projects shows, there's something innate to the seemingly timeless fascination with what happens when you combine air pressure, marshmallows, and a series of tubing.


For a look back at our quasi-retrospective on Maker Faire (and our questions about the "germs" that might live in an old-fashioned, blow-style, marshmallow shooter), see: Blow: From Marshmallows to Microbes.

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Google Asks: What's Your Question?


The 2012 Google Science Fair is underway. Google points students to Science Buddies Project Guide resources for assistance in preparing their step-by-step Project Submissions.




A Global Science Success


With over 10,000 student entries from around the world, Google's inaugural 2011 Science Fair was a resounding success. Students in 91 countries uploaded their science projects to take part in the virtual science fair. The top fifteen entries were then showcased at a live science fair at Google's California-based headquarters. In the end, there were three top winners, all young women, all who had questions and turned to science to attempt to find answers.


A Single Question Sparks a Winner's Research

According to Lauren (top-right video), a 2011 Google Science Fair winner for her research into marinades as a strategy for lowering the carcinogens in grilled chicken, her science project came to her, in part, because of a family dinner. Having recently read a magazine article about public and legal outcry over the carcinogens found in grilled chicken, an alternative many restaurants and fast food establishments offer as a low-fat or "healthier" alternative to popular fried variations, Lauren's curiosity flared when she noticed her mother using lemon juice as a marinade. In her Google Science Fair entry, Lauren recalls: "One summer afternoon, my mother was preparing our dinner: marinated chicken. One of the ingredients was lemon juice. I observed that the edges of the chicken had turned white. The explanation came later during biology class, when I learned about proteins denaturing from acids. I then wondered if this denaturing process could interrupt the formation of HCA's."

For Lauren, a combination of a real-world science news story, coupled with a home-cooked meal, left her with a question, a starting point, and a scientific journey that took her all the way to Google's winner's circle!

"It was like everyday life presented me with a problem, and now I needed to solve it," said Lauren.

According to Lauren's findings, reducing the risk inherent in the grilling of chicken—a risk that increases depending on how long the chicken is cooked—may be as simple as a marinade. What goes into that marinade, and what ingredients may inhibit the production of carcinogens that form during grilling—was at the heart of Lauren's Google science fair project. Her findings, based on her testing of a small number of possible marinade ingredients, suggest a need for further research on the effectiveness of brown sugar, salt water, and lemon juice as core ingredients for pre-soaking chicken. As her project (and her results) show, what is popularly thought to be the most healthy approach to cooking or ingredient selection... might not be!


2012 Google Science Fair

Celebrating the importance of asking questions, of being curious about how things work and what may be possible, this year's Google Science Fair is underway. The videos above showcase three students, including Lauren, and the kinds of questions they asked last year. What is your question? And where might finding an answer take you?

Students age 13-18 are eligible to submit a science project either individually or as a team. The Google Science Fair site is full of information designed to help students prepare and enter the competition. Project Submissions involve a series of 11 components and either a 2-minute YouTube video or a 20-slide Google Presentation. For a full run-down of the steps, visit: www.google.com/sciencefair.

To assist students as they work through the individual steps in preparing a Project Submission, Google has partnered with Science Buddies. Students can link through to information from the Science Buddies Project Guide for more information about many of the steps required for a student's Project Submission. Students are also encouraged to review both the steps of the Scientific Method and the Engineering Design Process.

The deadline for submissions for the 2012 Google Science Fair is April 1, 2012.


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How's the water?


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SODIS water disinfection uses PET bottles and the power of the sun over time. Image Source: SODIS Eawag, Wikipedia)

The answer depends on a number of variables, including where you are, especially if you are considering taking a drink. As Sarah Flaherty, a 9th grader at Westdale Secondary School in Hamilton, Ontario, discovered, purification strategies can be inexpensively enhanced by the strategic use of common materials. According to Sarah's science project, "Simplifying SODIS: Reduction of UV-impeding Turbidity through Macroscopic Filtration," an everyday T-shirt might offer a practical solution for eliminating excessive turbidity in water, a condition that can cause problems for solar water disinfection (SODIS).

In developing and rural areas, SODIS puts the power of the sun—and time—to work and offers an accessible and low-cost approach to improving the safety of local drinking water. The effectiveness of SODIS, however, decreases when the water is "cloudy"—or turbid.


Global Perspective

Taking inspiration from a family member who works for UNICEF, Sarah's project was an investigation seeking to improve SODIS-based water disinfection. Targeting the problem of turbidity, Sarah designed a filter that can be used to counteract the cloudiness of water. Her solution aimed to use readily available resources, like a T-shirt, and to create an enhancement that would increase effectiveness without significantly altering the cost of SODIS purification.

Sarah won a silver merit award at the 2011 Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair (BASEF), held this year in Hamilton, Ontario, and went on to participate in the 2011 Intel ISEF where she won Google's Secret Change Agent Special Award, an award that recognizes a project that has the potential to create positive impact in the student's neighborhood and/or on a global scale.


Making Connections

The quality of drinking water is directly related to the spread of disease. For example, outbreaks of cholera are often linked to contaminated water supply. According to the World Health Organization, 1.8 million people die each year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera), a statistic that the WHO estimates can be significantly reduced by water purification. Safer water and smart and affordable purification practices are key.

Students can investigate water purification in the following projects:


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Blow: From Marshmallows to Microbes


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The parts of a woodwind instrument, like the clarinet reed and mouthpiece shown above, could turn the band into a bacterial hotspot! Photo: James Eaton-Lee Njan Wikipedia.



At Maker Faire a few weeks ago, I wandered with my kids through a maze of techno-geeky wonderment. We started our day-long exploration of things that lie at the intersection of science, art, and DIY with a roundup of scuttling, skittering, line-following, light-seeking bots. They might not be useful around the house, but there was plenty of simple robotics wow-factor to go around. Solar-powered, light- or color-sensing, motion-detecting... there were a bevy of bots to explore—and numerous opportunities to remind my young inventors, "See, you could program your Mindstorms® to do something like that."


Zigzagging around a corner, we ended up in front of the Howtoons booth. If you've poked around the Science Buddies directory of Project Ideas, you might have run into the Do Submarines Need Fins? project from the Aerodynamics & Hydrodynamics area. The project is based on Howtoons' illustrated Soda Bottle Sub engineering project. I am a big fan of the graphic novel format (yep, adults read them, too), and it's great to see the quality (and quantity!) comic-style work HowToons is doing illustrating science projects.

As we stood there looking at the samples on their table, the guy behind the table took a split-second look at my 7-year-old and pulled out a shiny white beauty of a PVC-pipe-based marshmallow shooter.

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Image: Howtoons

The marshmallow shooter is a classic HowToons illustrated design project, and he was quick to show off the admirable distance he could launch a marshmallow into the crowd (a belated "oops" to the lady in blue fifty yards or so away!). My little guy, saucer-eyed at the thought of beaning tons of unsuspecting people with squishy white pellets, and a veteran in the marshmallow shooter world, was quick to ask, "Can I try it?"


He couldn't try it, of course, because to use a marshmallow shooter, you have to put your mouth to one open end of the tubing and blow, the air making a rapid circuit through the pipes to propel the marshmallow out the other open end. Right... it was covered in mouth germs and filled with droplets of spit. Bottom line: marshmallow shooters should not be shared.

The HowToons guy explained that. (Maker Faire folks get plenty of practice explaining things to a curious but sometimes unknowing or young crowd!) I reinforced the germ-laded explanation. And we moved along.

With or without the chance to blow marshmallows, there was plenty to see! And the chance to push buttons and send gigantic fireballs shooting out of the top of a variety of devices once outside was enough to divert even a seven-year-old.


Making Connections

A few days after Maker Faire, I spotted a story at ScienceNews that brought the marshmallow shooter moment to mind: "Don't share that clarinet: Bacteria can linger on woodwind instruments for days." Hinging on recent findings from a team of microbiologists at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, the story notes that microbes linger longer on certain types of instruments than others. In particular, instruments that use a reed (a type of cane) harbor bacteria longer than instruments made of metal.

Another recent report in Science Daily also cites the lasting power of bacteria on instruments, both woodwind and brass. A study of 13 instruments that hadn't been played in at least a week turned up a whopping 422 kinds of bacteria.

While similar, the two reports seem to differ in terms of the "importance" of knowing that the band can be a microbial hotspot, and the findings do not conclusively indicate that sharing a woodwind contributes to the spread of germs between players. Even so, I'm figuring that sharing marshmallow shooters might be a safer bet!


Making it Your Own

Whether you're in the band or just want to know your risk factor with PVC piping, exploring the lifespan of microbes on instruments — or other blow-based apparatuses — is something that could be worthy of a DIY science project. Our Microbiology Techniques & Tips can help as you think about designing your own experimental procedure.

  • Curious about the difference between the lifespan of bacteria on reed-based instruments compared to metal ones? It may have something to do with the oligodynamic effect. You can learn more about the toxic effect of certain metals on bacteria in the Is the Gold in My Jewelry Real? project.
  • Got a novel idea for helping quickly, easily, and reliably disinfect instruments? Take a look at the Engineering Design Guide and get started developing and testing your solution! (See here for a list of standard approaches to cleaning instruments.)
  • Wondering if you can build a bot or program your LEGO® Mindstorms to use marshmallows? Get building with the Go, Gadget, Go! Building Robots with LEGO┬« Mindstorms┬« project. How far can your bot throw?

We want to see what you come up with!


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A CCCSEF Wrap-Up


At the Fair

Long-time Science Buddies' intern, Justin Spahn was on hand at this year's CCCSEF as a volunteer judge. While visiting student projects, Justin took the following photos of some of the fair winners with their display boards.


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Blake Marggraff and Matthew Feddersen, Acalanes High School, 12th grade, "Simulated Treatment of Cancer with Photoelectric Effect-Produced Secondary Radiation" (biology), "Best in Science Fair," Senior Division Grand Award Sweepstakes, and First Place


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Nicholas Paz, De La Salle High School, 10th grade, "Coral Pollution: Effects of Tricaine Methane Sulfonate on Seriatopora Coral" (environmental science), Senior Division Grand Award Sweepstakes and First Place


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Vipul Kashyap, Deer Valley High School, 9th grade, "Software Complexity Measurement" (computer science), First Place


Science Buddies in Action

While walking around CCCSEF, Justin also spotted several award-winning projects based on Science Buddies Project Ideas!

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Madison Martin, Adams Middle School, 8th grade, "Double or Triple Scoop: How Different Blade Sizes and Types Affect a Savonius Wind Turbine's Energy Output"(engineering), Junior Division Grand Sweepstakes Winner and First Place


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Olivia Quadros and Janice Nam, Adams Middle School, 8th grade, "Measuring Knee Stress With A Mechanical Model" (biological science), Third Place


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Tesla Fox, Adams Middle School, 7th grade, "Air Cannon Vortex" (physical science), Third Place


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David Avunanya, Deer Valley High School, 12th grade, "Lunar Crater Counting" (physical science), Honorable Mention


Blake Marggraff and Matthew Feddersen were a "sweeping" success at the Contra Costa County Science & Engineering Fair" (CCCSEF) last month. The duo of 12th graders from Acalanes High School won first place in their grade, a "Senior Division Grand Award Sweepstakes," and "Best in Science Fair" honors for their biology project entry, "Simulated Treatment of Cancer with Photoelectric Effect-Produced Secondary Radiation."


Marggraff and Feddersen moved on to the California State Science Fair (CSSF) and will represent the CCCSEF at the Intel ISEF in May. The team also garnered special awards, including cash prizes for the "California Society for Biomedical Research," "Bio-Rad: Senior Division—Best in Biological," and "John Muir Health: Excellence in Potential for Improving Healthcare in the Future" special awards.


Nicholas Paz, a 10th grader at De La Salle High School, also won a first place award and a "Senior Division Grand Award Sweepstakes" for his environmental science project, "Coral Pollution: Effects of Tricaine Methane Sulfonate on Seriatopora Coral."


A Growing Fair

A survey of the projects that won awards (first-fourth, honorable mentions, and/or special awards) indicates the high caliber of scientific exploration represented at the fair, exploration, in many cases, that mirrors areas of hot scientific inquiry and pursuit for today's researchers. The quality of submissions at CCCSEF also reflects the growth of the Northern California fair, now in its sixth year.


According to April Treece, director of the CCCSEF, there were a record number of projects and a record number of students who participated in the 2011 event. "There were 120 projects and 142 student participants this year," says Treece. "We had 6 high schools and 8 middle schools participating," she adds, noting that two new high schools and one new middle school participated this year.


For CCCSEF officials, the upward trend—and continued support from the community and local corporations, including Bio-Rad and Chevron—is exciting. CCCSEF's growing numbers of science fair participants also potentially indicates growing interest in science literacy—together, teachers, communities, families, involved corporations, and organizations like Science Buddies are doing something right!


Congratulations

The following projects won first place recognition at the 2011 CCCSEF:


Student(s)  Project/CategorySchool/Grade
 

Madison Martin  "Double or Triple Scoop: How Different Blade Sizes and Types Affect a Savonius Wind Turbine's Energy Output"
Engineering
  Adams Middle School, 8
 

Andrew Johnson & Matthew VanderKlugt  "Hot n Cold"
Physical Science
  Holy Rosary, 8
 

Vipul Kashyap   "Software Complexity Measurement"
Math/Computer Science
  Deer Valley High School, 9
 

Nicholas Paz  "Coral Pollution: Effects of Tricaine Methane Sulfonate on Seriatopora Coral"
Environmental Science
  De La Salle High School, 10
 

John Jankowski  "How Do Omega 3 Fatty Acids Affect Cell Membrane Strength?"
Biological Science
  De La Salle High School, 10
 

Blake Marggraff & Matthew Feddersen  "Simulated Treatment of Cancer with Photoelectric Effect-Produced Secondary Radiation"
Biological Science
  Acalanes High School, 12
 

Andrew Clausen  "Singers vs Instrumentalists: A Test of Relative Pitch Sense"
Behavioral/SS
  Deer Valley High, 12

Special Awards

At Science Buddies, we encourage students selecting and conducting science fair projects to explore special awards that may be available at local fairs and competitions. At CCCSEF, there were 30+ special awards up for grabs, including the following "Innovation" awards presented by Chevron, one of the fair's key sponsors:

  • Chevron Innovation Award, Sr Division: Yasamin Haider, Deer Valley, "The Effects of Time on the Orbits of Globular Clusters"


  • Chevron Innovation Award, Sr Division: David Avunanya, Deer Valley, "Lunar Crater Counting"


  • Chevron Innovation Award, Sr Division: Jackson Schleider, Deer Valley, "The 'Hydrosphere': Responsible Efficiency in Water Bottles"



Congratulations to all who participated!

(Chevron sponsors the geology interest area at Science Buddies.)

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If you use the Science Buddies website and are participating in one of the following California science fairs, please leave a "comment" (below) or email us at SciBuddy@sciencebuddies.org:

We are hoping to talk to students at these fairs, especially students who are presenting projects from the Science Buddies library of Project Ideas!

  • San Mateo Science, Math, & Technology Fair
  • San Francisco Middle School Science Fair
  • Sciencepalooza!
  • Marin County Secondary Science Fair
  • Synopsys Silicon Valley Science & Technology Challenge
  • Santa Cruz County Science Fair
  • Sacramento Regional Science & Engineering Fair
  • Tri-Valley Science and Engineering Fair
  • Monterey County Science and Engineering Fair
  • San Francisco Bay Area Science Fair

Good luck to everyone who is participating in a science fair in the coming weeks!

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google-sciencefair-logo.jpgThe first Google Science Fair is happening this year!

Designed to be an all-inclusive competition, Google Science Fair 2011 open to students ages 13-18, worldwide. Students are eligible to participate either as individuals or in teams of up to three.

Submissions will be accepted until April 4, 2011. In May, 60 semi-finalists will be announced, and their projects will be posted online for public viewing. The public will have the opportunity to vote for the "People's Choice" award.


Great Prizes Up for Grabs!

At the end of the competition, Google will name 3 finalist winners, one in each age bracket (13-14, 15-16, 17-18). One of these winners will then be named the Grand Prize winner. The grand prize winner will be awarded a National Geographic Expeditions' 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands, a $50,000 scholarship from Google, and additional prizes, including a "once in a lifetime experience" prize from CERN, LEGO, Google, or Scientific American. Finalists also receive a scholarship, a "once in a lifetime experience" opportunity, and a range of other prizes from Google and the fair partners. There is also a $10,000 scholarship for the "People's Choice" winner. For more details, a full list of prizes, and complete contest rules and guidelines, visit the Google Science Fair website.

Great Goldberg

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By the way, we at Science Buddies like the Rube Goldberg-styled apparatus the Google team created to highlight the Science Fair on the home page. It's a great example of Goldberg-style engineering—and a lot of fun! The Google team kicked off their launch of the 2011 Science Fair with a live Goldberg-styled display. You can watch it for yourself in the opening seconds of the kickoff video at YouTube!


[For more information about Rube Goldberg and the engineering of simple machines, check this past blog entry: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/blog/2009/10/everyday-tasks-simple-machines-and-engineering-projects-1.php]


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Moon Gazing

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September 18 is International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN), a night where astronomy enthusiasts around the world—including students and families—will be gazing at the moon. A global celebration organized by Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) and NASA, InOMN encourages discussion of the moon and awareness of recent lunar missions, including NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), developed by Northrop Gruman.

The following Science Buddies science project ideas are perfect for home or classroom moon-minded discussions and exploration:

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Last week, Science Buddies joined with Symantec, a sponsor of the 2010 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), to evaluate projects in the area of Computer Science and to name winners of the 2010 Symantec Science Buddies Special Award in Computer Science.

This special award reflects the high-quality computer science projects that are being conducted by top students around the world.

"Symantec was honored to be a Special Awards Organization recognizing outstanding computer science research at this year's Intel ISEF competition," says Zulfikar Ramzan, Technical Director at Symantec Corporation. "The quality of this year's projects in the area of Computer Science was exceptional, making it challenging to identify the winners. As one of Symantec's Special Award judges, I would like to congratulate the top five winners for their dedication, hard work and talent."

The following projects were selected as winners of the 2010 Symantec Science Buddies Special Award in Computer Science:

First Award, $1,500


    Automatic Parallelization through Dynamic Analysis
    Kevin Michael Ellis
    The Catlin Gabel School
    Portland, Oregon


    Abstract: Parallel programming is necessary both for high-performance computing and for continued performance increases in consumer hardware. To advance parallel programming, we develop an automatically parallelizing tool called Dyn. Dyn uses novel dynamic analyses to perform data dependency analysis, data privatization, control flow analysis, and profile the program. The data from these analyses is used to generate parallel C code from a serial C program and is capable of targeting a variety of implementations of parallelism, currently multicore via OpenMP, GPU via CUDA, and clusters thereof. Dyn also uses its own new software distributed memory system which, in concert with profiling data, will automatically tune itself to the cluster in question. We develop a set of benchmarks which would be difficult to automatically parallelize using conventional static analysis, yet we show to be easily automatically parallelizable using our dynamic analysis. We also test Dyn against scientific computing libraries and applications, achieving speedups comparable to, and occasionally exceeding, those obtained by manual parallelization. We also develop a formal system for describing dynamic analysis and parallel computing known as the Calculus of Parallel States. We prove semantics preservation with respect to parallelization of terms without data dependencies. Our final result is a dynamic-analysis based method of automatic parallelization and a rigorous mathematical theory to support it.

Second Award $1,000


    Novel Computer Controlling Wireless Device for Handicapped People
    Ganindu Nanayakkara
    Ananda College, Colombo - 10
    Western, Sri Lanka


    Abstract: Physically disabled people lose the ability of experiencing benefits of the modern technology. Preliminary research was carried out, in order to analyze characteristics such as simplicity, reliability, customizability and affordability of ICT-based products available in the market, specifically designed for handicaps. As a result, I figured out that their qualities are not adequate enough to satisfy requirements of such users. Therefore, invention of a computer controlling tool with all the above qualities was considered as a necessity. The developed product is an interplay of hardware and software, which controls an entire computer system, depending only on 4 input commands. Its driver software contains all the basic features a user expects from a PC. The method of providing user inputs is totally adjustable depending on the user's requirements. Also, it is extremely simple, customizable and affordable, so that any kind of a handicap can use and afford one. This product is also responsible from the environmental point-of-view. Combination of a number of hardware and software based special features enables the invention to stand as an environmentally friendly "green product." In conclusion, the developed product is outstanding under a number of sectors such as functionality, economy, Eco-friendliness and simplicity. Therefore, it is ideal to be used not only by handicaps, but also by ordinary PC users; although its design is particularly focused on the former party.


    The Classification and Recognition of Emotions in Prerecorded Speech
    Akash Krishnan and Matthew Fernandez
    Oregon Episcopal School
    Portland, Oregon

    Abstract:
    Using Matlab and a German emotional speech database with 534 files and seven emotions (anxiety, disgust, happiness, boredom, neutral, sadness, and anger), we developed, trained, and tested a classification engine to determine emotions from an input signal. Emotion recognition has applications in security, gaming, user-computer interactions, lie-detection, and enhancing synthesized speech. After our speech isolation algorithm and normalization was applied, 57 features were extracted, consisting of the minimum, mean, and maximum values of fundamental frequency, first three formant frequencies, log energy, average magnitude difference, 13 Mel-frequency cepstral coefficients (MFCC), and its first and second derivatives. The MFCC
    data, resorted from minimum to maximum, resembled a tangent function, so we developed a program to determine the optimal values of a and b in the tangent equation: f(x)=a*tan((pi/b)(x-500)). Clusters of the first 18 features were grouped and, in conjunction with a weighting system, were used to train and classify features of every emotion. In addition, an MFCC input feature matrix was compared against each emotion's MFCC feature matrix with another weighting system that gives importance to dissimilarity among emotions. Overall, our program was 77% accurate, only 3% worse than an average person who identifies emotions with 80% accuracy. Anxiety was 99% accurate, sadness had zero correlation with anger, and with neutral removed from the results our accuracy increased to 84%, implying that neutral is in the middle of emotional spectrum. Future work will involve comparing the results of human subjects to our program's results, and training our program with new speech databases.



    Interested? To explore science and engineering projects in this area, check these Science Buddies project ideas:





Third Award $750


    A Parallel Computational Framework for Solving Quadratic Assignment Problems Exactly
    Michael Christopher Yurko
    Detroit Catholic Central High School
    Novi, Michigan


    Abstract: The Quadratic Assignment Problem (QAP) is a combinatorial optimization problem used to model a number of different engineering applications. Originally it was the problem of optimally placing electronic components to minimize wire length. However, essentially the same problem occurs in backboard and circuit wiring and testing, facility layout, urban planning, ergonomics, scheduling, and generally in location problems. Additionally, it is one of the most computationally difficult combinatorial problems known. For example, a recent solution of a problem of size thirty using a state-of-the-art solver took the equivalent of 7 single-CPU years. The goal of this project was to create an open and easily extendable parallel framework for solving the QAP exactly. This framework has shown good scalability to many cores. It experimentally has over 95% efficiency when run on a system with 24 cores. This framework is designed to be modular to allow for the addition of different initial heuristics and lower bounds. The framework was tested with many heuristics including a new gradient projection heuristic and a simulated annealing procedure. The framework was also tested with different lower bounds including the Gilmore-Lawler bound (GLB). The GLB was computed using a custom implementation of the Kuhn-Munkres algorithm to solve the associated linear assignment problem (LAP). The core backtracking solver uses the unique approach of only considering partial solutions rather than recursively solving sub-problems. This allows for more efficient parallelization as inter-process communication is kept to a minimum.



    Interested? To explore science and engineering projects in this area, check these Science Buddies project ideas:




    Does Practice Make Perfect? The Role of Training Neural Networks
    Brittany Michelle Wenger
    The Out-Of-Door Academy
    Sarasota, Florida

    Abstract: Does practice really make perfect when applied to neural networks? Neural Networks operate by selecting the most successful option based on prior experiences in a certain situation. This project explores the difference in learning levels between a soccer neural network trained in games versus a neural network that was trained via scenarios, which emulate a practice type atmosphere, to determine which training mechanism is most beneficial.

    This project was developed from the existing soccer neural network. The program was enhanced to allow for the implementation of scenario based training. Ten scenarios were defined to optimize the training experience. Twenty trials of scenario trained teams were compared to twenty trials of game trained teams. To assure the results were statistically significant; a t-Test was conducted comparing both winning percentage and goal differential.

    Out of forty trials, eleven trials achieved nearly optimal learning capacity - eight trained via scenarios and three trained through games. The average goal differential and winning percentage is better for the scenario trained teams and the results proved to be statistically significant at a 95% confidence level. Scenario based training is more effective than game or simulation based training.

    The results confirm that the hypothesis was correct and that convention wisdom is effective. Especially for those creating a medical neural network, I would recommend following the idiom "Practice Makes Perfect" when running simulations of the neural model because you can never be too careful.



Project Ideas and the Advanced Guide

While we have noted a few science project ideas that would allow students to explore topics in the general area of some of these award-winning projects, these projects are not intended to offer Intel ISEF-level research and exploration. These projects can, however, offer an introduction to a new area of research for a student and may offer building blocks upon which advanced projects can be envisioned and conceived.

Students working on the kinds of advanced and highly specialized projects that appear at the Intel ISEF benefit from resources available in the Science Buddies Advanced Project Guide. For example, for students already thinking about next year's top science competitions, reviewing the roundtable discussion Finding an Idea for an Advanced Science Fair Project can help point students in the right direction.


Congratulations to these special award winners and to all students who competed in this year's Intel ISEF!


UPDATE: We've published overviews of some of the winning projects on the Science Buddies website.



Symantec is the sponsor of the Computer Science interest area in the project directory of over 1,100 science project ideas on the Science Buddies website.

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Dim Light; Bright Science


David Johnson, a 7th grader from Windsor Charter Academy, went to the Colorado State Science Fair last week with a science project idea he found on the Science Buddies website.

Answering questions posed by the Science Buddies Topic Selection Wizard helped Johnson find a good match for his interest in circuits and electronics— and a novel use for a #2 lead pencil!


Congratulations to David!


Did you or one of your students do well in a local fair this year using a Science Buddies project idea? We'd love to hear about your success!




Local story: WindsorBeacon.com

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Methane: Handle with Care

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An explosion yesterday in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia is responsible for at least 25 deaths. Another four miners are still missing, but rescue missions have reportedly been called off due to dangerous levels of methane gas. Once the underground tunnels are ventilated, a process being assisted through the drilling of holes in the side of the mine to allow more oxygen to enter, rescue and recovery operations can continue.

The New York Times reported that officials hold out hope that the four missing miners may have reached a nearby safe house within the network of mines, a space where they could potentially survive for up to four days.

The cause of the explosion is as yet undetermined, but there is speculation that methane gas built up in a section of the mine that had been sealed off.


Methane: Good and Bad

A natural gas that appears both in nature and can be created through processes like composting, methane is used to provide heat and electricity. It also can be used to power some cars. However, as a "greenhouse gas," methane emissions may contribute to the problem of global warming and climate change.

On a smaller scale, an immediate danger is that in concentration, methane is flammable and explosive. While methane is non-toxic, it can be dangerous in an area without adequate ventilation because it can displace oxygen, causing asphyxiation. In other words, methane can take over the space it is in, diluting or pushing aside the available oxygen we need to breathe.


The Coal Connection

Coal mining produces methane, and so methane exists naturally within underground tunnels where mining occurs. Burning coal also emits methane gasses.


Biogas and Biomass

The following Science Buddies project ideas explore issues related to composting and biomass and touch upon issues related to methane production, harnessing, and ventilation. There is a reason that a landfill can't simply be turned into a compost pile, and it's directly related to the risks of methane.

To understand better what may have happened in the mine in West Virginia and to explore the ways in which methane comes up in current alternative and sustainable energy research, check out these project ideas:


For information on the mining disaster:

The New York Times: Rescue Suspended at Mine as Death Toll Reaches 25

The New York Times: Toll Mounts in West Virginia Coal Mine Explosion

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The "Tilt" of Time


We know the immediate and visible devastation earthquakes can cause, and last month, after the earthquake in Haiti, we posted a set of projects that offer good background material and talking points for discussion of earthquakes and plate tectonics. What students may not realize is that the impact of a big shake does more than cause structural damage.

In fact, an earthquake can alter the tilt of the Earth to such a degree that the length of time in a "day" changes. The change is very small—we are talking seconds broken into millions—so small that our timekeeping methods of hours and days isn't effected. It is still fascinating to realize, however, that earthquakes can alter the tilt of the planet and that the amount of seconds in a day is not absolute.

Science Daily reported this week that research suggests that the February 27, 8.8 earthquake in Chili may have shifted the Earth's axis and shortened the day. With a projected change in axis of "2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters, or 3 inches)," scientists have determined that the earthquake may have "shortened the length of an Earth day by about 1.26 microseconds (a microsecond is one millionth of a second)."

The following project ideas can help students talk about and visualize the importance of the degree of "tilt" of the Earth by examining the change of "seasons" on Earth:


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Bio-Rad, a manufacturer and distributor of products for life science research and clinical diagnostics, recently announced winners of its scholarship competition. Celebrating students with a passion for science and plans to pursue higher education in science with an eye to science-related careers, the essay-based competition was open to graduating students local to the Bio-Rad headquarters in Hercules, CA.

Science Buddies was on hand as the awards were presented and met with some of the winners. Winning essays from the following scholarship recipients are posted on the Science Buddies website:

  • Lauren Croda, De Anza High School in El Sobrante, CA Plans to study pediatrics
  • Sanjit Rai, John Swett High School in Rodeo, CA
    Plans to study biomedical engineering at UC Davis
  • Kiana Ward, El Cerrito High School in El Cerrito, CA
    Plans to study international relations and the sciences at Brown University

Winners of the Bio-Rad competition each received either a $2,500 or a $1,000 scholarship to help further their studies.

View a full list of scholarship winners.

Read winning essays.

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Science Buddies continues to team up with science and tech companies to recognize and support innovative science and what can be created, observed, tested, and discovered with ordinary materials put to creative use in the name of science.

After viewing entries yesterday, Science Buddies' Sandra Slutz is at the California State Science Fair today with Northrop Grumman's Wen Phan to select winners of the Science Buddies Clever Scientist Awards from the over 1000 participants representing over 300 California schools.

Thanks to generous support from Symantec, all winners of the Clever Scientist Award at CSSF will receive a copy of Norton Internet Security.

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Recognizing Clever Scientists


This year, Seagate and Science Buddies teamed up to sponsor and award the Seagate-Science Buddies Clever Scientist Award at various science fairs. At each fair, the "Clever Scientist" award honored the two most innovative science fair projects which used low-cost experimental techniques to answer challenging scientific or engineering questions.

"Doing more with less is one of the classic measures of creativity," says Science Buddies founder and CEO Ken Hess.

The following projects were recently selected for the Clever Scientist Award at the Santa Cruz County Science Fair, the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair, and the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair:


  • Colored Light vs. Fog
    Daniel Nugent
    Summary: Daniel created a controlled fog generator which allowed him to study light absorption, specifically which color of light penetrates fog the best (e.g., fog lights for automobiles) but is, at the same time, tolerable for human eyesight.
  • Decomposing Energy
    Max Keller
    Summary: Max's green project explored the use of home compost to generate heat energy. Max designed a system that featured aeration from a home fan, ventilation with PVC pipe, controlled moisture content, and an embedded water reservoir to measure heat change over time.
  • Pop Goes the Hairstrand
    Kathryn Wied
    Summary: Kathryn systematically tested groups of hair with varying types of shampoos to determine if shampoo helps increase the strength of hair.
  • Parabolic Solar Desalination for the Developing World
    Kelci Garcia
    Summary: Tackling the shortage of drinking water in some developing coastal areas, Kelci developed a prototype of an 'E.T. (Energy Transfer) Dish' - "a parabolic mirror and steam generator with a heat exchanger." The E.T. Dish facilitates the condensation of steam and the production of fresh water.
  • Earthquake Experiments
    Zachary Ajax Zinn
    Summary: The project involved the homemade earthquake shake tables which allowed observation and evaluation of the ways in which both horizontal and vertical shake affects buildings which have different structural components.

  • Can Kites Go Low?
    Evan LR Karow
    Summary: Evan built a wind tunnel, modeled after expensive high tech tunnels, out of cardboard, a fan, a rheostat, and a voltage meter. With the tunnel, and the ability to control the speed of the fan, Evan quantitatively compared 8 different kite designs to see which type of kite was capable of achieving lift with the least amount of wind.


Winners received a Maxtor One Touch III, 200 GB drive from Seagate and the opportunity to publish their project on Science Buddies website.

"By rewarding the authors and publishing these original, low-cost projects, we give other students across the country something that they can build and improve upon," says Hess.

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