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You like your gelatin desserts solid and jiggly but not runny, right? A kitchen chemistry experiment reveals why certain gelatin and fruit combinations might appear at a potluck or picnic and not others. For this student and her family, the desire to turn her first grade class science experiment into a vegetarian-friendly one led to an interesting and enlightening twist on the science experiment.

Student science success with chemistry project

Above: First grade student, Riya, with a box of vegetarian gelatin she and her mother used to create a new science project that extended the experiment Riya's class was doing. Below: Riya's variation on the Science Buddies Which Fruits Can Ruin Your Gelatin Dessert? project gave her a whole new set of combinations to try! She and her mother were very organized and systematic in preparing their testing cups and carrying out their hands-on experiment at home.

Student science experiment with vegetarian gelatin and fruit

Student experiment with vegetarian gelatin and fruit

When it comes to exploring chemistry with students, kitchen science often provides a fun and accessible conduit for hands-on learning. Mixing up two different batches of a favorite recipe and changing the amount of a single ingredient may yield dramatic differences in the resulting cookies, muffins, or baked goods. Kids and adults can compare, observe, and talk about the science involved while munching on the snack and performing their own taste tests. Or, for non-edible kitchen fun, classes and families can turn milk into plastic, mix up putty, or even make dough that can be used in an electronics experiment.

For Riya, a first grade student at a New York City public school, a recent classroom science project set the stage for learning about the relationship between proteases and proteins. But when Riya's family gave the project a vegetarian twist, she learned that there are always new science questions to ask and unexpected discoveries to make!

Riya's teacher was using the Which Fruits Can Ruin Your Gelatin Dessert? project with her class. At school, the students talked about the experiment, about gelatin, and about the fact that some fruits can be combined successfully in a gelatin dessert and some cannot because of way the proteases in fruits interact with the protein in gelatin. With plans to test gelatin alone, gelatin and kiwi, and gelatin and strawberries, the students formed their hypotheses about what would happen.

Given that gelatin has to be cooked, and because they needed many samples for a classroom demonstration, Riya's teacher called upon the assistance of a few class families to prepare the gelatin samples at home to bring into school. Riya's family volunteered to make batches of gelatin with two different fruits.

In theory, the take-home kitchen chemistry task was simple enough. But Riya, a vegetarian, didn't want to eat gelatin (which is made from and contains proteins from bones). (Eating the gelatin was not required as part of the experiment, but the teacher had told the students they could taste the gelatin samples at the end of the experiment, an idea that "grossed out" Riya, says her mother, a neuroscientist at Hunter College.

Riya's mother, also vegetarian, says she had never prepared Jell-O® before, but she has worked with it in her own science experiments. "I knew Jell-O came from gelatin, denatured collagen. I have used gelatin for my research. It makes a good substrate for growing cells and attaching brain and other tissues sections for staining because it is protein."

Faced with her daughter's resistance to the gelatin project, however, Riya's mother got curious. Surely vegetarian alternatives are available? "I went into an organic store looking for a vegetarian version, and I got lucky and found one. As expected, the vegan gelatin was made from seaweed and did not have any protein."

With a vegetarian gelatin alternative on hand, Riya's family decided to conduct an alternate test—one that raised new questions for Riya and her family. Vegetarian gelatin doesn't contain the proteins that are found in regular gelatin, the proteins that react with proteases to make some gelatin-fruit combinations work and turn others into a soupy mess. Would vegetarian gelatin behave differently with fruits?

A new hypothesis was in order—and a new experiment.

Riya and her mother conducted their own gelatin and fruit test at home, a parallel experiment to the one the class was doing. For Riya, the project was a wonderful learning experience and a reminder that a simple question can be approached in a variety of ways. Riya and her family enjoyed conducting this kitchen chemistry experiment in conjunction with the first grade class's science lesson and were excited to put their science question to the test and observe the results.

Riya's experiment with vegetarian gelatin in the Which Fruits Can Ruin Your Gelatin Dessert? project has also been added to the "Make It Your Own" tab as a variation on the project that students can investigate.

If you really want to mix certain fruits for gelatin desserts, should you start with a vegetarian gelatin? Put it to your own scientific test!

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This student's school science fair project yielded a few dozen eggs sporting the prints of various recycled ties salvaged from closets and secondhand stores. These eggs are not ones to eat, but for this young scientist, egg dyeing brought the pH scale to life and has given him new chemistry questions to explore as well as a solid introduction to the scientific method!

Student tie dye eggs chemistry science project / Jeffery

Above: Jeffery, wearing an awesome and very appropriate "egg" tie at the science fair. "Isn't my egg tie cool? I found it at the Goodwill when I was looking for ties to use," says Jeffery. "It has been my good luck tie. I'm wearing it to the state competition too!!"

Many families dye eggs each year for Easter, and whether they use packaged dye kits from the grocery store or try their luck with a variety of natural dyes, chances are good their dyeing method calls for the addition of some ratio of vinegar to water. General folk wisdom (and countless PAAS dye boxes) suggests that the pH of vinegar will help you obtain the most vibrant dye colors when using food color tablets to dye eggs.

According to the box, if you don't add vinegar to your soaking solution, you may end up with pale eggs, not the brightly colored ones shown on the box. This may be true when using boxed tablets, but according to Jeffery Austin, a fourth grade student in North Carolina, adding an acid to the recipe may not be a good thing if you are dyeing eggs with the fancy, upcycle, silk tie approach that has made the home and garden, parenting, and even Science Buddies rounds in recent years.


Dyed and Deviled

Jeffery and his family are tried and true egg dyers. He and his four siblings dye eggs each year, and then his mom makes deviled eggs. "It's a family tradition," Jeffery says. "Deviled eggs are my favorite," he adds.

This year, their egg dyeing tradition is getting a bit of a new-age twist. In addition to their regular dyed eggs, the ones they will later eat deviled, Jeffery's family will also be silk tie dyeing eggs, partly because it is very cool to take an old silk tie and transfer the pattern to a hard-boiled egg, and partly because Jeffery has spent a lot of time this year investigating the chemistry behind the process!


A New Wave of Egg Dyeing

The Dye Eggs Using Silk Ties for Egg-cellent Colors science project was a new addition to the Science Buddies library of Project Ideas last year, one that turns a popular trend in egg dyeing into a hands-on chemistry experiment for students. At the heart of the project is a simple question: does heat make a difference in how the process works?

Jeffery discovered the chemistry project while looking for a topic for his 4th grade science fair, and thought it looked cool. The pH scale hasn't been covered yet in his science class, but he said it appears in a few of the books he has, and he was particularly intrigued by the discussion of acid dyes in the project.

Jeffery ran through the basic project procedure quickly. He even put the question of heat in the process of using silk ties to tie dye eggs to the test in other ways out of curiosity as he tried to isolate and examine different variables at work in transferring tie designs to the eggs. He quickly made determinations about what worked and what didn't in terms of heat, but what really caught his interest was a line in the project about the use of vinegar in the dyeing process.

"When using acid dyes, acids are needed for the silk ties to be dyed, and acids are needed for the eggs to be dyed. So the eggs are soaked with vinegar during the dyeing process in order to help the acid dyes transfer their color from the silk ties to the eggshells."

Based on the information about acid dyes, the role of vinegar as an aid to the chemical reaction that occurs during the dyeing, and the reality that there are many other acids that fall in different places on the pH scale, Jeffery veered off on his own and designed a new variation on the experiment. If the pH of vinegar is good for acid dyeing eggs, is an even more acidic solution even better?

Jeffery pulled together his science fair project, testing different agents, including vinegar, to see how different acids affect the way silk tie patterns transfer to eggs. The hardest part of the project, says Jeffery, was waiting for the results of each egg dyeing experiment. It took a lot of patience, says Jeffery. "It was hard to wait 20 minutes to cook each egg. What was behind the cloth? There were so many possibilities and thoughts in my head as to whether the egg would be darker or lighter. I was so excited to see what the result was."


A Cracked Science Project

After all the waiting, Jeffery's eggs did not turn out the way he expected. Puzzled, he did a second round of egg dyeing, which yielded the same results. It was a scientific setback.

"I was so upset," recalls Jeffery of his disappointment with the outcome of his testing. The eggs had all taken on some patterning from the ties, but the ones that ended up darkest were not the ones he had predicted.

"I didn't even want to enter my project into the science fair!"

Thankfully, Jeffery's parents had excellent (or egg-cellent, in this case) advice for him. "My parents told me that things like that happen to scientists all of the time and that sometimes being wrong was just as important as being right."

samples from tie dye eggs chemistry science experiment

Important Lesson for Student Scientists

Students do not always find that their hypothesis is supported by their testing, and this is okay! The goal of doing a hands-on experiment is not, in fact, to prove a hypothesis to be correct. Instead, the goal is to learn something by following the steps of the scientific method (or engineering design process), experimenting, gathering data, analyzing the data, and then drawing conclusions. Discoveries are often made when something doesn't work out as expected!

Jeffery entered and won his school science fair. He then moved on to earn a bronze prize at the district fair, a third place award at the regional fair, and the chance to present his project at this year's North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair.


New Questions to Explore

Jeffery's hypothesis about the role of an acid in tie dyeing eggs didn't pan out, but his experiment opened up new questions for him--and for Science Buddies! Jeffery was especially disappointed with his results because he based his experiment on information in the Science Buddies project. The Science Buddies procedure focuses on the variable of heat. But Jeffery's experience with acids in the process raises interesting questions about other variables.

Not tired of egg dyeing yet, Jeffery is working with Science Buddies to do some additional testing and a new, controlled experiment focused on acid dyeing to put his findings to a next level of testing.

This year, when his family dyes eggs, there will be a few that are truly "tie" dyed. "We are definitely going to dye eggs using ties this year, but my mom says we can only use one tie each," says Jeffery. After a science season of Jeffery's ongoing egg dyeing experiments, his mom is opting in favor of the family's favorite deviled eggs. "You can't eat the eggs afterward because the acid dye from the ties can make you sick if you eat them," explains Jeffery.

The special tie dyed eggs are for looks only, but the whole experience has given Jeffery a chance to dabble in chemistry well beyond the science his fourth grade class has been exploring.

When not dyeing eggs, Jeffery enjoys Cub Scouts, participating on the NC Science Olympiad team, and playing Minecraft. He hopes to someday be a neurologist. "I just learned that Alzheimer's is the third leading cause of death in NC and the 6th in the nation," says Jeffery. "Why is it higher here in NC? I would like to find out!"

We can't wait to hear about his science experiment next year!

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Kate Lande hasn't ever run into a skunk, but thanks to her 6th grade science project, she knows all about the role of oxidation in combatting stinky smells.

Kate / Student Science Success Story / Chemistry of Skunk Smell

Student Science in the Real World

As a 6th grade student, Kate Lande (pictured above) put an old folk remedy for getting rid of skunk spray smell to the test. She later discovered that her science research came in handy when her dog rolled in a decaying octopus!

Kate / Student Science Success Story / Project Display Board

Sharing the Results

A Project Display Board, like Kate's shown above, is an important part of the school science fair project. Find tips for presenting your data and constructing your board in the Science Fair Project Display Boards resource, sponsored by Elmer's® Products, Inc.


At Science Buddies, we know that the idea for a great student science project can come from anywhere. Something a student sees on TV may spark a question. A favorite hobby may inspire an experiment. A family health challenge may guide student inquiry. Science projects can be constructed around and about anything, even something that totally stinks!

After watching episodes of MythBusters and Fetch! (PBS KIDS GO) about treating and removing skunk smell, Kate Lande, then a 6th grade student in Washington, got inspired to tackle her own smelly science chemistry experiment.

"It looked like a pretty crazy project," recalls Kate, "but I decided to try it anyway."

Inspired by the challenge of getting rid of skunk smell, a smell notorious for its noxious, lasting power, Kate crafted her experiment for her required 6th grade science fair project. Tomato juice is a well-known folk remedy for skunk spray smell. We've all seen sitcoms where a family pet—or family member—ends up soaking in a tub of tomato juice after an unfortunate run-in with a black and white striped bandit. But does this remedy really work? Is tomato juice really an effective approach to remove the smell from something that has been skunk sprayed? And, is it the best way to get rid of skunk odor?

That there are no skunks where she lives didn't stop Kate from digging into the chemistry of the smelly problem. "I've never seen a real skunk, but I've smelled skunk spray on some of the road trips I've taken with my family," says Kate. After working with imitation skunk spray for her project, the scent is firmly rooted in Kate's head. "To me, it smells like an awful mix of burned rubber, rotten eggs, and skunk cabbage (a type of plant that grows in swampy areas—it really does smell like skunk, and there's lots of it [in my area]! In wild areas, bears love to eat it.)."

Anxious to put folk wisdom about tomato juice to the test—and to pit it against other potential remedies—Kate got started. Her background research on thiols and oxidation gave her a strong sense of what she thought would happen and how her test remedies would perform. She set up her hypothesis, designed her experiment, and called upon some volunteer noses.

What was the hardest part about experimenting with methods of skunk odor removal? "It was definitely a challenge to work with the skunk spray liquid," says Kate, "both to keep it off of myself and to tolerate the terrible smell!" She did it, and when she was finished, she contacted Science Buddies to share her project.


Smelly Science at Science Buddies

Inspired by Kate's stinky science project, Science Buddies staff scientists used Kate's investigation during the development of a new Project Idea at Science Buddies. Today, students interested in wildlife, chemistry, or just smelly science, may undertake the Skunk Attack! Test Different Remedies to Remove Skunk Odor science project and get hands-on with different ways to neutralize (or oxidize) thiols, the class of chemical compounds into which skunk spray smell falls.

Kate is excited that an adaptation of her science project idea is now available at Science Buddies for other students. "It feels pretty cool," she says. "I'm proud that my project idea was an original and that I did it well enough to be listed on an actual science website."

For students who decide to investigate skunk spray, she cautions, "This is definitely an outdoor project. We live on a big farm, so we picked an area well away from our house to do the experiment."

Kate also says to keep in mind that skunk spray may be just the beginning! She found that the odor remover she tried also works in other smelly situations. "Like the time our Labrador rolled in a dead octopus," says Kate. "We were walking on one of Vashon Island's beaches, and she found the octopus and rolled in it before we could stop her. She smelled horrible!"

After checking with the local veterinarian, Kate got instructions for using the odor remover safely on her dog, and it worked. "The solution also works on horse and sheep manure. Since we live on a farm, there's plenty of manure, and sometimes our dog rolls in it (but not very often, thankfully!)."

What odor remover did Kate test and discover to be effective at removing a range of stinky smells? You will have to conduct your own chemistry experiment to find out. In the Skunk Attack! Test Different Remedies to Remove Skunk Odor science project, you and your volunteers can do a sniff test to see which of four different possible remedies is most effective—and why. The nose knows best, but when it comes to skunk smell, chemistry holds the key to successfully "destink" the situation!

This year, Kate's 8th grade science project involved measuring the amount of sugar in soda. If you want to explore the science of that sweet subject, see the How Sweet It Is—How Much Sugar Is Really in That Soda? project.

In her spare time, Kate loves to read, write, draw, and make videos with friends and family. She also enjoys being outdoors, exploring nature, camping, and hiking. One of her goals is to climb Mount Rainier.

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Teachers may or may not be tweeting their science lesson plans or sharing every hands-on engineering classroom activity at Facebook, but they are finding inspiration and community at Pinterest, where discovering new ideas and approaches to teaching is fun, visual, and easy. See it. Like it? Pin it for later. As a virtual bookmarking and filing cabinet system, Pinterest gets an A+ from many teachers—and is helping this teacher with classroom science and math planning.

Christi Woods / a teacher using Pinterest for science education and classroom planning

Pinning Classroom Ideas

Teacher Christi Woods (above) says that Pinterest is one of the few sites always open in a browser when she is working at home. At the visual bookmarking site, she finds all kinds of inspiration for science, technology, engineering, and math education—including Science Buddies!


Classroom scientific method poster


Bringing the Scientific Method into Classrooms

Thanks to support from Elmer's Products, Inc., many teachers in the Science Buddies community received a copy of the classroom Scientific Method Poster (shown above). Christi says her poster has already been helpful in the classroom. "I referred to ours each day as the steps were used and reviewed with each science experiment we covered."

In the photo below, two students consult the scientific method poster while working on an in-class project.


Students consulting classroom scientific method poster
No matter what your profession, you probably frequent at least one social media site or online hangout where you indulge your need for news, social happenings, and, maybe, a steady stream of professional ideas, inspiration, resources, and support. For Christi Woods, a 5th grade teacher at Normandy Elementary School in Ohio, Pinterest is her social media spot of choice, one of the few browser tabs guaranteed to be open when she is working on her computer at home.

Christi is not alone. While many pinners are busy pinning hairstyles, home decorating ideas, wedding themes, and food, food, and more food, there are thousands of education-oriented pins and boards. With boards ranging from grade-specific collections like First Grade Fun, Second Grade Smiles, and Third Grade Troop to boards devoted to specific core curriculum subjects and themes (e.g., science, math, robotics) or grade ranges (e.g., middle school science), teachers have raced onto the Pinterest scene, virtual thumbtacks and staplers at the ready, and are actively pinning away.


The Teacher's Bulletin Board Gets a High-tech Update

Recognizing that teachers have gravitated to Pinterest for bookmarking handouts, printables, assignments, resources, bulletin board and class organization ideas, and more, Pinterest launched a specific set of curated boards for teachers last fall. The teachers hub may have been an experiment, but, today, the "Teachers on Pinterest" board collection has attracted more than 77 thousand followers. While there are other teacher-specific social media networks trying to draw teachers in, teachers appear to be comfortable at Pinterest and inspired by the easy exchange and sharing of information that happens through pinning and pin surfing.

With more than 70 million users worldwide, the soon-to-be-four-years-old visual bookmarking site has rapidly climbed the ranks of social media hotspots. Able to create and organize boards on any topic they want, pinners routinely scan pins, and repin ones of interest, adding them to their own specialized boards. As pinners repin pins that catch their attention, pins circulate, over and over. With each repin, other pinners may see the content in their streams, repin, and, in doing so, pass pins on to a new group of viewers. The site makes is very easy for users to "repin" content to a personal board. Pinners can add a comment, if they want. But it isn't required. Just click "repin," choose the board where you want to stick the pin, and the pin immediately floats to the top of the stream for your followers.

From the outside, pinners can pin fresh content they discover on Internet pages, stashing information for later reference or helping curate a certain category or topic for their own followers. With multiple ways to pin, share, and reshare content, Pinterest creates an elegant, and very visual, circular flow of information, one with an unlimited number of intake points for introducing new content.

While the visual grid of Pinterest has a bulletin board system at its core, the sheer size of the collections of pins amassed by many pinners quickly transforms any "board" idea into a giant filing cabinet system. Nice search features, easy visibility to "similar" pins, and the ability to discover new pinners based on others who have pinned the same kind of information make Pinterest easy to use—and, for many pinners, hard to put down.


Science Buddies @Pinterest

As a trusted resource in science education and hands-on science fair project ideas and materials for more than a decade, Science Buddies boasts more than 15 million student, teacher, and parent visitors each year—and more than 1,200 hands-on project ideas for students.

In an effort to keep members of the Science Buddies community up to date with Science Buddies content and inspired about science education, in ways that are most convenient to them, Science Buddies maintains an active presence at Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. Through any of these popular social media sites, followers can easily stay in touch with Science Buddies and catch highlights of popular projects, see stories about student successes, and catch posts that tie science news and popular culture into science education.

Excited about the potential of Pinterest as a way to help share, highlight, and curate science, technology, engineering, and math education content, Science Buddies has been pinning project ideas, blog posts, and updated student, teacher, and parent resources at Pinterest for more than a year. Science Buddies maintains a giant K-12 science project ideas board for teachers and parents who want to see everything, regardless of grade. At the same time, because many teachers are looking specifically for activities and ideas for students in certain grades, Science Buddies has grade-specific and thematic boards, too.

When Christi contacted Science Buddies with a question about classroom scientific method posters, she mentioned that she follows Science Buddies at Pinterest. We were excited to hear from a teacher who had noticed Science Buddies in her streams at Pinterest. When we talked further with Christi, it was interesting to discover that she knows Science Buddies from Pinterest. She wasn't first a member of the Science Buddies community who then started following Science Buddies at Pinterest. Instead, she learned about Science Buddies first from Pinterest, and Pinterest remains the way she keeps up to date with Science Buddies.


Teachers Pinning Science

Christi, who celebrates her twenty-fifth year of teaching this year, says she doesn't use Facebook or Twitter, but Pinterest is a staple stop for her, both for personal inspiration and idea bookmarking and for science and math lesson planning. "We, my team and I, try to incorporate hands on activities, especially in science, as often as we can," says Christi. "The kids love that best," she continues, noting that at her school, hands-on science education and active learning is widely practiced in the elementary grades.

Pinterest helps Christi mine for fresh ideas and new approaches. "I try to find ways to supplement our science texts and make things more interesting and engaging by using experiments, helpful anchor charts, and interesting lessons I find [on Pinterest]," explains Christi. "Along with pinning experiments that come from the Science Buddies site, I will often pin ideas that come up on my home page if they meet my curriculum needs, are ideas that are different than what I already use, and are ideas I think are unique."

Like many schools, Christi says that her school limits access to certain kinds of sites, including Pinterest. She was able to get special permission to access Pinterest from school, but she says most of her Pinterest browsing and pinning happens at home. "I pretty much am on Pinterest on a daily basis during the school year and on my days off! I am the first to admit to being addicted," she says, adding a smiley face. "However, I use it much more for classroom use than for personal use. Whenever I am working on my laptop at home, Pinterest (along with my school email, personal email, and ProTeacher) is one of the tabs I usually have open at all times."


Science Buddies in the Classroom

For Christi, Pinterest is where her teaching intersects with the wide range of materials at Science Buddies. But all fifth grade teachers at Christi's school also now have classroom Scientific Method Posters in their rooms, thanks to support from Elmer's® Products, Inc., which made a limited number of posters available to teachers last year. While Science Buddies was new to Christi, she says that when she told her students about the posters, she saw a few "head nods" in recognition of the online destination point for student science, technology, engineering, and math project ideas and resources. "I believe they, or their older siblings, have used the site for science project ideas before."

As her school approaches its science fair season later this year, Christi says she will be suggesting Science Buddies to both her students and her colleagues.

Some of the many Science Buddies boards at Pinterest
The screenshot above shows some of the many Science Buddies boards at Pinterest. To follow Science Buddies at Pinterest, visit www.pinterest.com/ScienceBuddies and click "Follow All" (or click "Follow Board" for individual boards)!



Note: Free Scientific Method Posters are not currently available. There is a downloadable version of the Scientific Method Poster in the Teacher Area that teachers can download and print.


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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With open source software and guided directions from Science Buddies, students can explore the ways in which robotics engineers test designs before choosing which designs to prototype. This student put her own robots to the test—on her computer—and walked away with a blue ribbon at a local fair.

Student VoxCAD success story / 3D robotics student science

Students Exploring 3D Engineering

With computer-aided design and simulation software, students can begin exploring virtual design and engineering as early as elementary school.Have you experimented with 3D software for your science project, as part of your robotics team, or just for fun? We would love to hear and share your story! Email us at blog@sciencebuddies.org to let us know how you have started exploring 3D design and engineering!

With many schools offering extracurricular or after-school robotics clubs and programs, more and more students are exploring robotics engineering. Hands-on projects like building an ArtBot or BristleBot make it easy for families to tackle a robotics building activity at home with fairly easy-to-come-by supplies like toothbrush heads, coin cell batteries, and plastic cups.

While making a cute bot that shuttles about on toothbrush bristles can be empowering and rewarding for kids, designing effective robots involves more than just the mechanics of assembly. Being able to test different approaches to a robot design or its materials before investing time and money in building offers many advantages for engineers. If the goal is to create a robot creature that can move quickly from Point A to Point B, which design will work best?

Building three different working models, each with different approaches to mobility, is not always a practical approach given issues of time, materials, and money. If, instead, an engineer can do some preliminary testing and gauge the benefits or drawbacks of various design options, she may be able to save time and money and invest energy working on the design that shows the most promise for a given challenge or need. One approach to evaluating designs involves using computer software, like VoxCAD, to simulate various designs and conditions. VoxCAD is an open source, cross-platform physics simulation tool originally developed by Jonathan Hiller in the Creative Machines Lab at Cornell University.

In the field, using simulation software can be an important pre-build and testing step for robotics engineers. In the classroom, simulation software allows students to explore robotics without prior engineering experience. With a suite of VoxCAD Project Ideas at Science Buddies, students can experiment with robotics engineering at the virtual level, no circuits, batteries, or soldering required.

"The neat thing about VoxCAD is that kids can jump straight in to the deep end," says Dr. Sandra Slutz, Lead Staff Scientist at Science Buddies. "It takes a lot of mechanical engineering, electronics, and even programming know-how to create robots with different mobility strategies, but using VoxCAD, a student whose curiosity is sparked can start designing those robots in just a few minutes without all the time it takes to develop those skills."

With robotics simulation, exploring robotics and comparing designs doesn't require building multiple robots. Instead, students can get started right at their computers. After mocking up, visualizing, and testing their three dimensional ideas using VoxCAD, students who want to learn more about hands-on robotics engineering can explore circuit-based robot building projects in the robotics area at Science Buddies and move from virtual to real-world robotics design, building, and engineering.


Thinking 3D: Student Robotics

Laura was in 4th grade when her mom showed her a new VoxCAD project at Science Buddies. Laura, who wants to be a website developer in the future, was fascinated by the idea of designing three-dimensional robots and decided to give the introductory "Robot Race! Use a Computer to Design, Simulate, & Race Robots with VoxCAD" project a try.

"My mom showed me a VoxCAD video, and I became attached," says Laura. "I liked the way the creatures moved. I thought that was very interesting that the computer was able to bring them to life. And I wanted to learn how to do that."

When her mom told her about VoxCAD, Laura didn't have a science project assignment due. She chose to experiment with VoxCAD on her own. "I just thought it looked fun and wanted to try it," says the budding engineer, noting that robotics engineering wasn't an area of science she was already interested in or had explored before.

Laura enjoyed working with VoxCAD and trying different robot designs. In a video she created to accompany her project, Laura describes the movement of each design as the three-dimensional block-based robots move around on screen. She refers to the three models she created and tested as the "fastman snail," the "shimmier," and the "sidewinder," and her testing shows clear differences in the effectiveness of each. Using VoxCAD, she was able to bring the three robot designs to life on the screen and put them in motion to see how they would move and which would move farthest.

Voxcad Screenshot
Above: a screenshot from Laura's VoxCAD project that shows her three robot designs after time has elapsed.


The best part of the experience, says Laura, was watching her creations move in the VoxCAD Physics Sandbox. "I learned to think in 3D," she adds. After finishing her project, Laura entered it in the science division of the Alameda County Fair where she won a first prize blue ribbon.

Congratulations to Laura!


Further Exploration

To learn more about VoxCAD and to experiment with your own three-dimensional robot design and testing, see the following Project Ideas:

For suggestions about family robotics projects and activities and ways to engage your students with introductory robotics exploration, see: Bot Building for Kids and Their Parents: Celebrating Student Robotics, Create a Carnival of Robot Critters this Summer, Robot Engineering: Tapping the Artist within the Bot, and Family Robotics: Toothbrush Bots that Follow the Light.


Today, February 20, 2014 is Girl Day, part of Engineers Week. Don't miss the chance to make a difference in a student's life and future by taking the opportunity to introduce students to the world of engineering today and every day.

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Students conducting science projects at all levels can find resources and guidance at Science Buddies.

2013 Success Story / Michael Shao at 2013 Intel ISEF

Pictured above: Michael Shao at the 2013 Intel International Engineering and Science Fair


Science Buddies for Every K-12 Student

Science Buddies has resources for all levels of student science projects. Our Science Fair Project Guide and ISEF Project Guide contain numerous resources for students conducting hands-on experiments and preparing to present their research and findings at school, at a local fair, or at an advanced competition.

Students at all levels frequently consult the Project Display Boards resource for assistance in preparing the board that lets judges, teachers, and science fair visitors better understand what their project was about—and what they learned, discovered, or uncovered. Browse the Project Display Board gallery to see examples.

If you are planning a project display board this year, visit Elmer's Products, Inc. to download a rebate form to save money on display board supplies!

For Michael Shao, an incoming junior at Detroit Country Day School in Beverly Hills, MI, science is an important part of his high school experience. "I do at least one hands-on lab a week in each of my science classes," says Michael, who is currently most interested in biology.

Last year, Michael catapulted his growing interest into a winning science project, his first foray onto the science fair scene since fifth grade. His sophomore science project in animal science may have future application for humans. "My Intel ISEF Project was about finding the neural circuitry (neurons) that are responsible for sensing cold temperatures using the nematode C. elegans as a model organism," explains Michael.

Because it has a simple nervous system, the C. elegans worm can be studied as a model of the human nervous system. Michael's research may help scientists find new ways to help humans withstand lower temperatures.

Michael entered his project in the regional fair, progressed on to the state fair, where he won the Grand Award, and then continued on to the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), where he won a Best of Category Award in Animal Sciences.


Supporting Top Student Research

As he worked on his project, Michael visited Science Buddies and consulted resources in both the general Science Fair Project Guide and the more advanced ISEF Project Guide. In the advanced project guide, Michael says resources like How to Find a Mentor, How to Read a Scientific Paper, and the Sample Subjects from Advance Competitions were particularly helpful.


The Display Board

When it was time to get ready to showcase his results at the local fair, Michael visited Science Buddies to review tips and suggestions for presenting his project and findings. "The Science Buddies website gave me great advice on how to construct my board and present my project," says Michael.

The science project display board can be very important in helping clearly convey a project to the judges and audience. After putting together this year's board, Michael offers the following advice: "I found that the board does not need to look fancy to win. The judges are judging the boards for content."

As Michael summarizes, the content—including the overview, procedure, data, and analysis—is what a project display board is really all about. Judges want to see what a student did and what she discovered or learned. Michael advocates keeping it simple and straightforward. An effective project display board needs to be well constructed to succinctly and clearly present information. The Science Buddies Project Display Boards guide, sponsored by Elmer's® Products, Inc., offers helpful information regarding sizes, fonts, adhesives, and more. (See also: "Perfecting the Project Display Board.")


Benefits of Hands-on Exploration

"I think hands-on science is extremely important for all students," says Michael. "For students with less science experience, hands-on science can really encourage them to explore their curiosities and better understand how science works. For those who are already interested in science, students learn much faster when they are exposed to hands-on science where they can see actual results of the information they learn in textbooks and lectures and try new ideas."

Michael plans to continue his research this year, with his eye set on another trip to Intel ISEF to show off his ongoing work and to meet up with other top science students he met this year.

In the meantime, like many other students who enter the world of advanced science fair competition, Michael is using the Internet to keep in touch and up to date. "I stay connected with other top science students through the Official Intel ISEF Facebook Page. I still talk to many of the people I met at ISEF from all over the world on Facebook chat. To keep up with science news, I often read Science News or Scientific American magazines and go on sciencenews.com to read the latest discoveries. I also read the science section of major news publishers such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times."

Science Buddies creates resources for students at all levels and is always excited to meet and hear from top science students who consult Science Buddies materials during their science fair process.

We wish Michael luck with his continued research!


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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For this middle school science teacher, Science Buddies has a front-row seat in the classroom, providing support for hands-on student science fair projects and for curricular and extra-curricular planning.


Student Science Project

Students and Teachers Find Hands-on Science Success with Science Buddies

Angela McDaniel uses the Topic Selection Wizard and Project Library of more than 1,300 hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) project ideas with her students in Moatsville, WV.

In recent years, Angela has had many students succeed with their Science Buddies projects, both in the classroom and at local and regional science fairs. (Pictured above: a former student with her project display board from the The Nose Knows Smell but How About Taste? human biology and health project.)

For Angela McDaniel, a recipient of the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, and a teacher at Kasson Middle School in Moatsville, WV, Science Buddies is an indispensable resource in helping plan and prepare the school's annual Family Science Night and in supporting students in tackling robust projects for local and regional science fairs. Angela says she has been using Science Buddies for six years, both at her current school and at a previous school, and the site and its wealth of tools for both students and teachers have become an important part of her classroom.


Helping Students Find Perfect (for Them) Projects!

Angela teaches students in grades 5-8, and as her classes begin their journey to the yearly science fair, she spends several days of in-class time with the students on the Science Buddies website. Students are also given the opportunity to use the school's computer lab to browse Project Ideas and resources at Science Buddies.

Like many educators, Angela encourages her students to use the Topic Selection Wizard for assistance in finding a project that is of interest and that is also appropriate in terms of its level of complexity. "I love the grade and difficulty level rating," says Angela. "That way I can assign a student a level, but they still have plenty of choices!"

To help students (and teachers) locate appropriate science Project Ideas, Science Buddies labels each project in terms of its "difficulty." The label does not correlate directly to "grade level" because there are many variables that come into play when determining which projects are suitable for individual students. Not all sixth graders, for example, have the same academic background, skills, or experience, so a project that works for some sixth graders may be too complex (or not challenging enough) for others. The difficulty ranking system takes this into account and helps teachers, students, and parents match projects to a sliding scale of grade levels for which a project may be appropriate.

Angela says the difficulty ratings are particularly helpful because she can assign students different levels of Project Ideas to consider, and she often assigns a "minimum" difficulty ranking. "This works very well for the wide variety of students that I have (mentally impaired, learning disabled, gifted)," she explains. "It also is wonderful for the elementary teachers that I work with when they are looking for something to do with their classes or when I am assisting with our 3rd and 4th grade science fair!"


Inspiring Interest in Science

Dedicated to engaging as many students as possible during their hands-on science projects, Science Buddies believes having a wide range of projects is key to supporting hands-on science and to helping students enjoy their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) assignments—particularly important for students who do not naturally identify themselves as interested in science. With a growing library of more than 1,300 Project Ideas in more than 30 areas of science, Science Buddies has something for everyone, and the Topic Selection Wizard does a remarkable job in helping match students to projects of interest.

"There are so many topics covering so many disciplines that students are bound to find one they like," says Angela, noting that 85% of her students used a Science Buddies Project Idea for last year's school science fair. Many of her students go on to succeed in science fairs with their projects. At Kasson Middle School, all middle schoolers (grades 5-8) compete in the school science fair. Of the nine top projects at last year's school fair, six were based on Science Buddies projects. Seventh and eighth grade winners at the school science fair go on to the Eastern Regional Science Fair at Davis and Elkins College. Of the projects that progressed to the regional fair, six from Angela's school placed (won an award), four of which were based on Science Buddies Project Ideas.

"We have had great success with students and Science Buddies projects placing at both school and regional level," says Angela. "Students tell me that they like Science Buddies because they can get a whole idea for a project and find variations, as well, to help them make it their own!"


Family Science Night

Getting the Whole Family Involved

Angela uses Science Buddies to help plan a yearly Family Science Night for parents and students. Many teachers organize such science nights to help parents better understand the role of hands-on science and to help set expectations for the year. (Pictured above: students and parents at one of Angela's family science night events.)

The following Science Buddies resources help educators in planning these events:

Emphasizing the Family Connection


In addition to using Science Buddies with her classes for their own projects, Angela turns to Science Buddies when planning activities for the yearly Family Science Night. Science nights vary from school to school. Some schools exhibit student science projects on Family Science Night. Other schools conceptualize the night differently. At Angela's school, Family Science Night is a precursor to the science fair, a family "kick-off" of sorts for the science fair season. "Our family night was set up to get parents and students 'in the mood' for science fair," explains Angela.

With parents and students gathered, Angela walks through the scientific method, explaining how students use the set of steps to approach testing and answering a science question. This year, she used Science Buddies' Bubble-ology Project Idea on Family Science Night. After introducing the project, and on the heels of refreshing attendees about the scientific method, they formulated a hypothesis for the experiment and then broke into groups to do the hands-on testing. Once everyone had completed the "lab" portion of the activity, they regrouped, says Angela, and talked about their findings and the importance of collecting accurate data and drawing conclusions.

Angela also uses Science Buddies with an eCYBERMISSION club she leads, a group that prepares science projects for submission in the U. S. Army's eCYBERMISSION online science fair (open to students in grades 6-9). This year, Angela had eight groups complete projects for eCYBERMISSION. Four of those based their projects on Science Buddies Project Ideas, and one of those teams placed first in the state.


The Changing Face of Science Education

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is a critical concern in today's school systems, a concern being underscored even more by the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which emphasize the importance of hands-on science and the inclusion of the engineering method in addition to the scientific method. Teachers like Angela are in the trenches trying to sort out and balance changing curriculum with available classroom time and resources, and Science Buddies is dedicated to helping provide quality tools and resources to assist teachers in meeting STEM needs in their K-12 classrooms.

For Angela, the importance of hands-on science and activity learning cannot be understated. "I think that it is essential to 'do science' as often as possible. Students learn that science is applicable to many aspects of life and that many things they do and take for granted every day are 'science experiments.' They also learn the valuable skill of working in a team on a project from inception to conclusion. This is not always a skill they get in other classes."

Students with energetic, excited, and supportive teachers like Angela are fortunate to be putting science and engineering concepts into practice and learning to see and make real-world connections.

Science Buddies is proud to be a key resource for Angela and her students!


Filter Project Ideas by Difficulty
Using Filters to Find Projects at Science Buddies

Science Buddies recently introduced new filters that let students more easily narrow down the list of Project Ideas when browsing the Science Buddies library. With the new filters, students can specify the level of difficulty of Project Ideas they wish to view, as well as other criteria, like the area of science or the length of time required for the project. Learn more...

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Student Physics / Student with accelerometer
For his 8th grade science project, Jonathan Stewart gave the "The Chills and Thrills of Roller Coaster Hills" Project Idea a new, bouncy, twist. When it was time for his science project, the local amusement park was already closed for the year, so after building his accelerometer (the device he is holding in the photo), Jonathan put it to the test on a trampoline for a great physics project exploration of g-force!

What did your science project or family science activity look like? If you would like to share photos taking during your project (photos like the one above or photos you may have put on your Project Display Board), we would love to see! Send it in, and we might showcase your science or engineering investigation here on the Science Buddies blog, in the newsletter, or at Facebook and Google+! Email us at blog@sciencebuddies.org.

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Christina Ren, a high school junior and founder of Science Alliance Network believes student-to-student mentorship is key to keeping young kids excited about science.

By Kim Mullin

Christina Ren at 2012 Intel ISEF
Above: Christina Ren at the 2012 Intel Inernational Science and Engineering Fair where she presented her project on the bioactive properties of deer antler and its therapeutic potential on wound healing.


Look for Science Alliance Network at Intel ISEF!

Christina and her mentor, Patti Carothers, are presenting a symposium about Science Alliance Network at this year's Intel ISEF. Intel ISEF attendees can learn more on May 15 (1:15-1:45PM, Room West 101C) as Christina and Patti share how starting your own Science Alliance Club can benefit students of all ages in your area.

Christina Ren has a mission: sparking a passion for science in elementary and middle school students. At the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) during her freshman year of high school, Christina discovered that she loved explaining her project to younger students visiting the fair on the public visitation day. She was surprised by their enthusiasm for scientific experimentation. After similar experiences at other science fairs, Christina concluded that giving kids the opportunity to do hands-on experiments would be a great way to keep them excited about science throughout their school years.

With this in mind, Christina joined her school's Science Alliance Club, a program that matches high school students with younger kids who need to complete a science fair project. While mentoring her buddy that year, Christina discovered that the program was a win-win. Not only was she helping someone learn the process of scientific investigation, but she was also reinforcing her own knowledge of science.

Christina particularly appreciated the opportunity to be a Science Alliance mentor because she had help from adult mentors for her own science projects. "Through Science Buddies' Ask An Expert forum, I received timely and helpful advice from Ms. Donna Hardy from Bio-Rad Laboratories," explains Christina. "I conducted my projects mostly independently, and it was great to be able to get some feedback and advice from a science professional when needed."


A Personal Challenge to Help Others

Having seen firsthand how beneficial science mentoring was to both the high school and the younger students, Christina took on the personal challenge of greatly expanding Science Alliance's reach. Four other schools in the area had already started their own Science Alliance Clubs, but Christina saw that the idea would be easy to replicate on a much larger scale.

With the help of Patti Carothers, the science teacher who co-founded the original Science Alliance Club in 2004, and now director of Alameda County Science and Engineering Fair, Christina worked out a plan to create the Science Alliance Network, which would allow the program to expand across the country. Two key parts of her plan were the Science Alliance Network web site and the Science Alliance Network Resource Pack. The web site describes the program and invites schools to participate, while the Resource Pack provides schools with the tools they need to start their own Science Alliance Club.


Spreading the Word

Now that she has developed the tools to help other schools get started, Christina is working hard to promote Science Alliance Network. She presented the program to local school boards at this year's California Jr. Science & Humanities Symposium and will be presenting this week at the 2013 Intel ISEF. By way of explaining her enthusiasm for Science Alliance Network, Christina states, "Young people are the key to solving our toughest global issues, so I believe it is imperative to encourage others to rely on their spirit of curiosity, to explore new ideas, and take on scientific challenges."

Because Christina is focused on expanding the Science Alliance Network, she isn't mentoring a younger student this year. However, remembering her previous mentorship, and seeing the positive impact of other Science Alliance Network mentorships, keeps her motivated. "My favorite part of mentoring is seeing the immediate effect it has on the kids—they're engaged, curious, and eager to learn. This is the ultimate reminder of why I think Science Alliance is worth spreading to others."

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Getting girls inspired about engineering can be as simple as giving them the tools and a fun hands-on challenge to solve. Thanks to community support from Northrop Grumman, a group of Maryland middle school girls tested their marble run mettle —and had a great time doing it!

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Whether using foam tubing or an assortment of found and recycled materials (as in the photo above), creating a marble run or marble roller coaster is great hands-on engineering for students of all ages! Throw in some duct tape to spice things up, and you've got a hard-to-resist creative engineering activity for today's DIY duct tape crowd. Bonus: you don't need a lot of supplies or a lot of space. Even a hallway will work!
Building a marble run is a fun hands-on science activity and a great way to get students of all ages involved in an exciting engineering challenge—one that has clear and immediate results. Will the marble make it from top to bottom? How long of a run can you build? What design modifications might increase the marble's speed?

As students explore construction challenges, design issues, principles of physics, and engineering problems while creating a marble run, they also intuitively put the engineering design process in action. They think creatively. They innovate. They prototype, test, and then make changes. And they have fun.


Fostering the Engineering Spirit

Thanks to volunteers from Northrop Grumman, students from Maryvale Preparatory Middle School were recently treated to a hands-on engineering activity and challenge. The girls were given thirty minutes to build a roller coaster out of two pieces of foam tubing, a roll of masking tape, and five plastic cups. The wall and bleachers in the gym where they were conducting the activity were also fair game. Points were to be awarded for incorporating different kinds of loops and spirals in the design as well as for having the marble land in a cup at the end of its run.

With the clock ticking, the challenge was on, and the girls quickly started taping and looping their tubing, experimenting with different elevations, and repeatedly dropping marbles through the tubing to test their in-progress designs. This engineering activity is one that lets students explore principles of physics and design through trial and error. If the marble flies out of the tubing rather than continuing down the track, something needs to be altered. Which variable is causing the problem? The exploration also encourages them to think creatively. With limited materials on hand, what options are available for stabilizing the marble run? What do you attach it to?


Supporting Science in the Community

For Laura Lam, senior quality engineer at Northrop Grumman, and Christina Lloyd, quality engineer at Northrop Grumman, time spent at the Brooklandville middle school was time spent giving back to the community in support of science, technology, engineering, and math literacy (STEM)—and in support of females in engineering. Lam and Lloyd visited Maryvale Preparatory as part of Northrop Grumman's DiscoverE program, a program that supports STEM education in local schools. Through DiscoverE, Northrop Grumman engineers visit community schools and lead hands-on classroom activities designed to inspire and excite students about engineering and technical career paths.

This was Lam's sixth year bringing a hands-on engineering activity to students at Maryvale Preparatory. Each year, Lam says she chooses a project that "highlights for the girls that they can be real problem solvers." Building confidence and giving students a good look at what engineering "means" is important, says Lam, who thinks students, both boys and girls, are sometimes scared of going into engineering. More exposure to the kinds of creative and fun problem solving at the heart of engineering helps students better understand what engineering is really all about. "Doing these projects each year is fun for them and also helps them see that they can solve real-life issues," Lam adds.

In years past, Lam has led students in building newspaper towers, developing boats from plastic wrap and straws, designing an environmentally friendly soda can holder, and constructing towers from dry spaghetti and gum drops. Each activity poses a challenge, uses common materials, invites collaboration, and lets students dive in as they race to find the best, fastest, most stable, or most innovative solution. Clear objectives for "winning" are given at the start, like this year's point system by which teams earned points for integrating specific design elements or successfully completing a specific task.

"Every year I am amazed at the creativity of these young girls," says Lam. "They are in 6th through 8th grade, but they come up with some really creative ideas, and they work really well together."

For Lam, visiting the school and helping excite and inspire students is one way she is actively helping to encourage young women to explore STEM fields. Like other female engineers, Lam recognizes the importance of girls having and meeting real-world role models. "When I was trying to decide what I wanted to major in when I was going to college, my Dad (who was also an engineer) took me to his place of employment and let me spend the day with some other female engineers," says Lam. "Seeing other women in the field helped me to solidify my decision to go into engineering... and I'm so glad I did."

Lam participates in DiscoverE to give young women in her community the same kind of support and encouragement. "I certainly hope that over the years that I have been doing this at least a couple girls have been inspired to go into the engineering field as a result."


Bring it to Your Community or Home

If you are inspired by the engineering activity Lam and Lloyd did with students at Maryvale Preparatory, consider doing a similar science or engineering activity with a group or class of students in your own area or at home! You might be surprised to find that local teachers would welcome the opportunity to have you come in and help with a hands-on science or engineering activity in class.

The following Project Ideas can easily be adapted for use in a short-term, hands-on engineering activity:

Remember, when you take a science project into the classroom, focus on what can be accomplished in a fixed amount of time—and on what the students can learn by putting the project in action.

For more insight and parent perspective on hands-on engineering activities, see "Roller Coaster Science: Marbles, Tubes, and Loops" and "Building Bridges."
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Science Buddies Project Ideas and resources in robotics engineering and astronomy are supported by Northrop Grumman.

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crystal radio science project photos - 5th grade science exploration

The above photo series is from a recent 5th grade student's Crystal Radio science project. The student used the Science Buddies Kit for his science experiment but modified the experimental design of the crystal set during construction. After building the set, the student put the radio to the test, testing one of the many variables available for exploration with a crystal radio. The result? The student was one of the top five participants at his middle school science fair. Congratulations!

Curious about crystal radio? Learn more in this profile of an engineer who has built hundreds of crystal sets!



What does your science project look like? If you would like to share photos taking during your project (like the photos you may have put on your Project Display Board), we would love to see and possibly showcase your science or engineering investigation here on the Science Buddies blog! Email us at blog@sciencebuddies.org.

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Two students in LA took an audible cue from the community for their fourth-grade science project and designed a sound-based video game. Their first video game design project gave them an inside look into how games are designed, built, and tested to meet the needs of various audiences.


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For their fourth-grade science project, Zach and Talia created a video game called Blong. Their game, reminiscent of Pong, was designed with special attention to sound cues so that it can be played by a wide audience, including by those who are visually-impaired. You can find other inspiring success stories on our Science Buddies in Action page.
Using video games as an educational tool, especially in areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), is becoming increasingly common in the classroom. At the same time, an increasing number of students are exploring video game design as part of their science and engineering projects. Propelled by support from companies like AMD, E-Line Media, and with showcase events like the National STEM Video Game Challenge and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (which includes video game categories), students are finding increased support and validation for projects that help them catapult interest in games into scientific exploration.

There are countless angles for possible student exploration, and Science Buddies Video & Computer Games area offers a wide range of Project Ideas that encourage students to test, create, or experiment with video game design and technology.


Meeting Students on Familiar Ground

When Zach Weiss and Talia Glazer, fourth grade students at Brawerman Elementary School, discovered the "Creating a Video Game for the Blind" Project Idea after using the Topic Selection Wizard, they found a project that combined their interest in technology with their desire to help others. The Project Idea sparked their curiosity in terms of learning how to create a video game, but it also got them thinking about the video games they play. Can those same games be played by everyone? Do visually impaired students also play video games? Can games be created that are similarly fun for all audiences? For two fourth-grade students with no experience designing a video game, deciding to see what it takes to create a game that works for vision-impaired or blind players may sound ambitious, but Zach and Talia were up to the challenge.

With the support of their science teacher, who encouraged her students to investigate the implications of their projects beyond the walls of the classroom, Zach and Talia met with a group of teenagers at a local center for the blind. The team quickly learned that, like many other teens, students at the Center enjoy video games. Unfortunately, many games cannot be fully enjoyed (or won) if you can't "see" the game. The teens Zach and Talia met game them plenty of information about the kinds of features that are important in a game that can be played by blind gamers. "We asked them what elements they thought video games needed," says Zach. "They said lots of sound elements, commands, and cues, so we decided to create a video game with all of these elements."

Following the steps of the Engineering Design Process, Zach and Talia outlined their goals, brainstormed possible game types and storyboards, and evaluated game creation environments. After considering many options, they decided to create a game in the tradition of the classic two-paddle Pong. Though the team chose a vintage game as a conceptual framework, Zach and Talia planned to give their version a major update, one that would tip the scales in terms of sound cues and would not require sight to play. Using the "Creating a Video Game for the Blind" Project Idea and GameMaker Lite, they began developing Blong.


Designing Blong

Zach admits there was a learning curve to working with GameMaker. But the more they tested, tweaked, and retested their game during development, the easier they found the design and programming process. In the end, the two had a great time working together, exchanging ideas, and building a game that met their objectives.

"Our video game has tons of sound elements," says Zach. "For example, when the paddle 'bumps' into the top or bottom wall, the player hears a 'bump' sound." Cues like these, and other sound elements that signal certain actions or events, help orient the player both in terms of the game mechanisms and the game play. In addition to boosting the game's sound-based environment, Zach and Talia also paid careful attention to the speed of the game and the visual contrast of the game, elements of game design the teens they met told them can make or break the playability of a game for visually impaired players.


Testing Blong

Playtesting a game in development is often one of the most fun aspects of a game design project. For Zach and Talia, playtesting was critical, says Zach, but to accurately evaluate how the development was going, they had to continually put themselves in the position of their target audience. After all, they were not creating just a video game. They were making a game that can be successfully played entirely based on the game's sound cues. "We tested the game with our eyes closed in order to adjust the speed of the ball and paddle and to determine the types and amounts of sounds cues to use," says Zach. In addition to testing for playability, Zach and Talia also got a firsthand look at the rigorous levels of testing and troubleshooting that often go into game design and computer programming projects. "We tested each feature of the game throughout development," says Zach, "to make sure that it still worked, to determine if any of the newly added features conflicted with the earlier features, and to debug the errors that we found."

Creating Blong was challenging for the team, but the satisfaction of having made their own game scored big with the team in the end. "The best part of the science project," says Zach, "was programming the Blong video game that my partner and I developed!"


Science Projects Spark Lasting Interest

Zach loves to read, play video games, and participate in school sports and extracurricular activities like the Green Committee, school newspaper, choir, and orchestra. He was already interested in technology at the outset of his science project, but his experience with Blong cemented both his interest in pursuing a high-tech career and his enthusiasm for science fairs. "Creating a video game for the blind was an amazing experience," says Zach, attributing part of the reward to the community service aspect that gave his and Talia's project real-world significance.

Already Zach has continued to expand his knowledge of video game design and took a summer class to learn about using another popular game design creation tool. Blong may have been his and Talia's first science fair project and the first video game they designed, but we hope there are many games yet to be created in their future!




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According to senior Brittany Wenger, programming computers to think for themselves in the name of science may change the face of cancer diagnosis. Using cloud technology to both share data and feed her program, Wenger's Google Science Fair project blends computer science and medicine to create a powerful resource for the medical community—and an inspiration for other young programmers.


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"The Google Science Fair has provided me with a platform to share my research with the world. I am very excited that pathologists are interested in working with me to provide my project with more samples so that the success rate can improve." ~ Brittany Wenger, winner of the 2012 Google Science Fair (Photo, courtesy Andrew Federman)


Supporting Emerging Programmers


Students interested in computer science can explore further with Science Buddies Project Ideas like these:

Brittany Wenger was in the 7th grade when she first realized that computers can be programmed to detect incredibly complex patterns—and to learn from their experiences. A class devoted to "futuristic thinking" gave her a glimpse of the power and potential of artificial intelligence. She was immediately hooked. She bought a book on computer programming and set out to learn how to develop her own 'intelligent' systems. In artificial intelligence, Brittany discovered a way to combine her interest in computers and technology with science. Her first artificial network focused on analyzing soccer games, a project that grew out of her love of the sport. Though not life-changing, the soccer project gave Brittany the grounding and experience she needed to tackle something much more sophisticated, and with much greater global impact—breast cancer.

Brittany's winning Google Science Fair project involved the creation of an artificial neural network (ANN) (and a cloud component for global access) to help with the evaluation of breast cancer biopsies. An example of artificial intelligence, an ANN is a program modeled after the biological neural networks of the brain. With training, these math-based networks can detect and synthesize incredibly complex patterns in data—and can continue to refine their accuracy, autonomously, as they analyze increasing amounts of data. "My network is a back propagation neural network, meaning it learns and updates its formula based on experiences and mistakes," explains Brittany, "so with more data and experiences, the network is able to fine tune itself better."


Top Science Student

A senior in Sarasota, Florida, Brittany appears at first glance to be a typical high school student. She plays two varsity sports and competitive soccer, takes a rigorous academic course load, and has accumulated more than 500 hours of community service. Look a little more closely, however, and you see that she is also an astute computer scientist with an unquenchable thirst for science. She is also, by necessity, a master of time management, and, when it comes to choosing between her research and day-to-day activities, she often winds up in the computer lab, especially during Fall months when her projects are at breakthrough points. "I was researching on Halloween," she admits, noting that, already at eighteen, she sometimes makes social sacrifices in the name of research. But she is pragmatic. "The Friday nights I give up are my choice. I love researching and do not mind some of the things I have had to give up. You can't do everything."

Brittany's research doesn't always leave a lot of room for sleep, either. At one point during her Google project, while in the process of running 7.6 million trials, Brittany had to set her alarm every four hours for two weeks in order to start new cycles. With or without sleep, science is a passion for Brittany. "Through science I can find answers—and more questions," says the Google Science Fair winner who began competing in science events in the sixth grade. Since then, she has accumulated a lengthy list of awards and successes at numerous competitions. As an eighth grader, she went to the Science & the Public (SSP) Middle School Program (equivalent to today's Broadcom MASTERS) and placed third. She has also competed and won awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) three years in a row. And then there was the 2012 Google Science Fair, where her persistence, passion, and sophisticated cross-disciplinary project wowed an impressive team of judges and took top honors.


First Steps in Computer Science

Initially interested in web-based information, especially online gaming and community sites, Brittany focused her first computer science projects on issues related to usability and user interface design. "My first science fair project explored whether people prefer a text, bulleted, or picture layout for a webpage," says Brittany. "My second project was on what age groups prefer what types of layouts (maps, menus, or plain text)." Once she got hooked on the idea of artificial intelligence, however, Brittany's interest kicked into high gear. "I bought a coding book and decided that that was where I was going to focus my energies." Armed with a book that walked her through basic computer programming examples, Brittany shifted from HTML scripting to more robust programming languages like C#, and the course of her computer projects and scientific research changed.

She began her first artificial intelligence project in the seventh grade. That project, her soccer neural network, was three years in the making, but in those three years, Brittany learned a tremendous amount about ANNs and gained hands-on coding experience that set the stage for her high school breast cancer neural network project. "My love of AI is deeply rooted in my experiences from my soccer program, and programming that first neural network was an integral part of my formation as a scientist," says Brittany. As a freshman, she presented her soccer ANN project at ISEF, where she won numerous awards, including a Special Award in Computer Science from Symantec and Science Buddies.


Women and Computer Science

Despite increased numbers of women pursuing careers in computer science, the field remains one steeped in stereotypes, a fact that, unfortunately, may dissuade female students from exploring even a fledgling interest in programming. Luckily, Brittany found support for her interest in computer science from the beginning.


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One of the highlights of the Google Science Fair experience for Brittany was meeting with Vint Cerf (above right), chief Internet evangelist at Google. (Photo, courtesy Andrew Federman)
"I know computer science is stereotypically not a field with many females, but I have never felt anything but encouraged to pursue my coding interests," she notes. "My interest in computer science started long before I had a perception of the fact that it might not be 'normal' for a girl to be interested in it." Even so, she recalls that on her first trip to the state science fair in sixth grade, she noticed how few female students were competing in the computer science category. She noticed, but never did she stop to question whether or not she should be working in the computer lab. She knows it is where she wants to be, and in programming, she sees a tool she can shape however she needs to in her quest to solve a scientific problem. "I am inspired by the fact that scientific research is our chance to revolutionize the world around us," says the programmer. "Science allows us to engineer the solutions and future technologies that can truly make a difference."

Brittany admits that living in the age of the Internet, and with the benefits of open source code repositories, computer science is more inviting and accessible to a young coder. But having a real-world mentor and role model can be critical for any top science student. Brittany was fortunate to find excellent support in her high school's computer science department. "My computer science teacher, Mrs. Barrett, let me take AP Computer Science as a sophomore." This teacher pushed Brittany to explore Java, moving her beyond the comfort zone she had established with C#. But Brittany credits her success, overall, to all of her teachers. Brittany's project was interdisciplinary in nature, and she says she received invaluable support from her biology and math teachers.


Real-world Science

Affecting 1 in every 8 women, breast cancer is a health problem that touches women of all ages. Many students have a family member or know someone who has had breast cancer. Brittany is no exception. As she began her project, a family member had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, a reality that gave her project added personal significance. Improving biopsy readings and helping ensure earlier and more accurate diagnosis has the power to change the grim statistics. It is on this premise and possibility that Brittany set to work building a system capable, she hopes, of making a difference in testing and diagnosis.

"When I found the University of Wisconsin's data published on the Machine Learning Repository and reviewed previous experiments, I was inspired to create a tool that could increase the success of studies using fine needle aspirates," she explains. "I wanted to create a tool that could be used to handle raw data and outliers while achieving sensitivity to malignancy. Such a tool will decrease the invasiveness of diagnostic procedures, decrease costs, and lead to earlier detection."


A Custom Solution

In preparation for her project, Brittany explored commercial solutions that are currently used for biopsy assessment. These off-the-shelf products allow users to customize artificial neural networks to analyze and act upon specific kinds of data, but they don't offer the specificity Brittany hoped to achieve with her own tool. As Brittany explains, using solutions like NeuroSolutions, NeuroIntelligence, and EasyNN, users can configure ANNs "to a degree," and without having to do any coding, similar to the way a user can use an office program like Excel to create and customize a graph.

As part of her benchmarking, Brittany configured each tool for "success with breast cancer diagnostics to their fullest potential." Then, with a hands-on understanding of the abilities and limitations of current tools, she built her own from scratch, creating a tool she says outperforms existing commercial solutions.


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The Quest for Original Research

Many students struggle to find a "novel" project for top science competition, a project direction that is new and untested. Brittany, whose work straddles the lines between multiple science, technology, engineering, and math fields, believes that taking an interdisciplinary approach can help students think outside the box. "If a student can combine his or her passions for multiple science fields, I think that's when really novel research is born. For me, I find intertwining medicine and computer science enthralling."

Brittany also notes that it is important to do plenty of research and stay on top of what is going on in fields of interest. "The idea for my project was born when I was randomly surfing the top 100 computer science papers, and I decided I wanted to try to make the previously less successful analysis of raw data from fine needle aspirates more successful by programming my network with a new twist." Knowing what has been done and what is being done is the only way, in other words, to realize what might be done. But Brittany, like other top science winners, knows, too, that a key ingredient to success is individual passion. You have to love the project you choose. You have to commit to the research. You have to be willing to spend the time, live with it, work through the highs and lows, and see it to the end.

"Passion is an integral part of a successful project," says the 2012 Google Science Fair winner. "I would suggest not picking a topic because you think it will be successful at a top science competition, but picking a topic you are genuinely interested in and a topic you think can have far-reaching impact." (Photo, courtesy Andrew Federman)

"My neural network is very different from the capabilities of the commercial products and from other coded neural networks. I improved the malignant sensitivity on my custom-crafted neural network to 99.11%, 4.97% better than the best tested commercial kit."

In every project, there are stumbling blocks, and computer programs require meticulous debugging and testing. Brittany's breast cancer ANN was no exception. "Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer failed twice before I coded a successful application," she says. "The first attempt, there were more errors than there was code, so I scrapped it without extensive troubleshooting." She made it farther with her second attempt. "It compiled, which was exciting at first, but then proved worse than flipping a coin at diagnosing breast cancer during testing."

Despite the setbacks, Brittany remained committed to her project and confident that she would create a successful tool. "In science, there are more flopped than successful experiments. Of course I wanted to create a viable diagnostic tool, but I also knew that with each flopped network, I was gaining valuable knowledge about what would—or more specifically what wouldn't—work with computer-aided diagnosis such as mine." Her persistence paid off as she, like her ANNs, learned along the way from each iteration of her project and research.

Brittany attributes the high accuracy of her ANN to three innovative factors: "I have an artificial input layer which converts each input into four nodes of its binary representation because binary spikes actually emulate the neural signals in the brain, since neurons are either firing or off. The service also has heavy malignant weighting, meaning it's going to err on the side of cancer because a false negative can be detrimental." A final differentiator between Brittany's solution and other products is the way her ANN determines and deals with what she calls "inconclusive logic." Rather than relying on a single determination from the ANN, Brittany's system takes into account ten different evaluations. "Instead of being derived from a sigmoid function, I actually simultaneously create ten different neural networks," she explains. "Since they all are randomly initialized a little differently, they all learn a little differently, just like all people learn a little differently. A sample is deemed inconclusive if these networks produce different diagnoses."

One of the key elements of Brittany's ANN involves how the system interprets and assimilates past "false negatives," biopsy readings that showed "negative" where, in fact, cancer was present. Brittany's system weights these assessments differently, setting her ANN up to learn from the existing data, and continue learning with the input of new data. "The weighting is not a 'guess,' but rather is adaptive learning," explains Brittany. "Initially, all the weights are randomly initialized as doubles (decimals between 0 and 1). The network learns via back-propagation, so these weights are updated and changed during training based on the network's experiences and mistakes."


A Cloud Approach

Brittany's ANN, alone, demonstrates powerful potential, potential she says can be used for other kinds of cancer diagnosis as well. But she didn't stop with the creation of the tool as a standalone application. Instead, she turned to cloud computing to make the ANN accessible to medical and research professionals around the world. "The cloud is an amazing elastic entity that allows me to create a tool accessible to the global medical community," says Brittany. "Right now, the service has low usage, but the cloud allows it to scale to support every hospital in the world if they want to access it tomorrow." The scalable and flexible nature of a cloud service also offers Brittany the ability to configure her program for use with a range of devices.


The Google Science Fair Experience

As a computer scientist, Brittany admits that when she first read about the Google Science Fair, she was intrigued by the new competition but also very excited about the possibility of visiting Google. She worked on her winning Google Science Fair project for two years, first entering an early iteration of her winning project in 2011. Though she was not a finalist that year, her experience with the virtual science fair was encouraging, and so she returned again with a more robust version of her ANN project in 2012.

"I really like the format of the Google Science Fair. All entries are submitted as online websites, which allows for participants around the world to submit entries," says Brittany. "I worked very hard on my site and did some HTML, but the Google tools and formatting ensure that even if you aren't a coder, you can have a good site." According to Brittany, the various sections required for a Google Science Fair project are clearly explained and adhere to the scientific method, which makes preparing a project submission a straightforward process.

As a finalist, Brittany joined other finalists for four days at Google. While she enjoyed all aspects of the visit, including the chance to ride in a self-driving car, Brittany was especially excited to meet and present her project to scientists like Ada Yonith (a chemistry Nobel laureate), Steve Myers (CERN/Higgs Boson), and Vint Cerf (one of the fathers of the Internet and vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google).

As the winner of the 2012 Google Science Fair, Brittany has found herself in an enviable position—everyone wants to help. "I am so overwhelmed by the support I have received from my community and internationally. All the publicity has led to doctors contacting me, interested in collaborating so I can get more data." This collaboration will help Brittany continue to refine and educate her ANN, and as she feeds in more and more data, the ANN will continue to learn. "I believe that winning the Google Science Fair has given my research the opportunity to go to the next level, and possibly make a difference in actual patient's lives."


Looking Ahead

Even as she looks ahead to the next steps in her research and development, Brittany first gets to enjoy the enviable bounties of winning the Google Science Fair. "I get to go to the Galapagos with National Geographic and be inspired by the same islands as Darwin was. I get to have an experience with LEGO, Google, or Cern. I get to speak at breastcancer.org and at TED. As a scientist, these are experiences that are beyond my wildest dreams."

Life is busy for the high school senior. Since speaking with Science Buddies, Brittany gave her first TED talk at TEDxAtlanta and will be speaking at TEDxWomen later this month. She was part of the "The World We Dream" Google Zeitgeist panel, and attended the Equal Futures Partnership launch at the UN General assembly. In addition, she has been named a regional finalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology.

Without a doubt, Brittany's success is a shining example for young women who are drawn to computers at an early age. Finding female role models in computer science is incredibly important and empowering and can be critical in encouraging and nurturing early and continued interest. As the story of Brittany's evolution as a scientist and a programmer shows, even during elementary school years, girls can create computer science projects that fit their interests and let them develop core programming skills upon which they will continue to build as they progress to more complicated projects and programs. "I think my biggest advice for women interested in computer science would be to just go for it! I know there is a gender disparity in computer science, but it is not indicative of boys being better suited for the field than girls. I think it is important for young women to realize that coding is so much more than creating the hardcore video games that seem to have more appeal to boys than girls. It's our Internet, our social networking, and so many other technologies that do appeal to women and men equally."





Science Buddies Project Ideas in Computer Science are sponsored by Symantec Corporation.





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Life Technologies' InnovatioNation helps introduce students to biotechnology and to the role of science in addressing global concerns. Teachers participating in InnovatioNation use Science Buddies to help support the science curriculum and their school science fair.


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Life Technologies Foundation's InnovatioNation Program helps teachers introduce biotechnology in their classrooms and connects Life Technologies' employees to the "future scientists" in their communities. Judith Carlstrom was one of seven teachers who participated in the InnovatioNation pilot program.

When North Broadway School received their state test scores from last spring, the impact of the increased science curriculum was dramatic. The school's science score showed tremendous improvement, increasing from 65% to 86%. "Our principal is ecstatic," says Judith. "We are the stars of the school. Life Technologies foundation made a big difference!"

To support teachers who are taking part in InnovatioNation, Science Buddies has created a dedicated resource with suggested projects that fit the InnovatioNation modules for 5th, 7th, and 9th grade classrooms.

For Judith Carlstrom, a teacher at North Broadway School in Escondido, CA, teaching science curriculum to prepare students for state-mandated testing has become a focus for her and her colleagues who also teach fourth and fifth grade. Responding to the national call for increased science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, Judith says she and the other teachers "have made a concerted effort" to meet STEM curriculum requirements, including hiring a lab teacher who meets with fourth and fifth grade classes each Friday. The materials and hands-on exposure the students get on Fridays in the lab is reinforced in their classrooms throughout the week, which supports an active-learning model that Judith feels is particularly important for elementary learners.

Despite their efforts to boost science literacy, Judith says she and the other teachers were "overwhelmed" when they realized that one of the requirements for taking part in Life Technology's InnovatioNation program is to hold either a family science night or a school science fair. The program, designed for fifth, seventh, and ninth grade teachers and classrooms, supports teachers looking to enhance their STEM curriculum by introducing students to the world of biotechnology and exposing students to areas of life sciences, including genetics, agricultural engineering, and regenerative medicine. In addition, InnovatioNation helps students better understand what it is like to "be" a scientist, highlights the importance of philanthropy through service, and shows students how science can be used to address both global and community challenges. Through InnovatioNation, Life Technologies encourages employees to volunteer in their communities and to make connections with the students who will become the scientists of tomorrow.

Invited to participate in the InnovatioNation pilot program, Judith and the teachers at North Broadway School were excited by the prospect of InnovatioNation. The science fair requirement was a concern, but Life Technologies assured them that schools like North Broadway can successfully organize a science fair and guide students in preparing science fair projects. Up to the challenge, Judith spearheaded the school's participation in the program.


On Board with InnovatioNation

The InnovatioNation program is designed to intersect with a teacher's regular curriculum during a twelve-week period. In the semester before the InnovatioNation pilot began, Judith met with Life Technologies to fine tune North Broadway's fifth-grade science curriculum in preparation for the science that would be covered as part of InnovatioNation. To help support Judith in the integration of the fifth-grade InnovatioNation science module, the program provided a full set of classroom materials. "I received a full binder complete with timelines, pre- and post-tests, lessons, and information about Science Buddies," says Judith.

Judith's class studied cells and cellular function during the Fall semester as part of their regular science curriculum. They were then ready to tackle introductory genetics in the Spring, when Judith taught two InnovatioNation-provided genetics lessons involving Punnett squares, a diagram that helps visually represent principles of Mendelian inheritance. This was entirely new material for Judith's students, and material that would not ordinarily have made its way into her classroom. But her students responded eagerly.

"My students were fascinated by the idea of constructing an individual but became predictably riotous when I asked if anyone wanted to volunteer as 'Mom' and 'Dad' to determine the eye and hair color of their offspring." Familiar with this typical elementary-school response to "boy/girl" issues, Judith wasn't fazed. Drawing from a jar of "name sticks" she uses as part of her classroom environment, she randomly paired up the students so they could track through the genetics. The activity was a success. "They loved it," says Judith.

Judith's class then took a sponsored field trip to Life Technologies. Due to budget limitations, this was her class's only field trip of the year, so there was plenty of excitement as the students boarded busses for their on-site tour of Life Technologies in Carlsbad, CA. During the three-hour tour, Judith's students wore lab coats given to them as part of the field trip and rotated between three different stations created to highlight science careers, community service, and what a science company and lab really looks like. "The fact that not one in ninety students ever asked to use the bathroom or said they were hungry during that time speaks highly of their level of engagement," says Judith. "I can't tell you enough how unusual that is."

One of the stations Judith's students visited at Life Technologies engaged them in a community service project where they helped package high-protein meals. "They worked in an assembly line, and teams of ten raced each other," says Judith. "They managed to package over 7,000 meals." Beyond the satisfaction and reward of helping with a large-scale community service project, Judith says she and her colleagues thought the assembly-line experience "would convince them of the value of higher education." Instead, the food packaging project "was their favorite activity," she notes, "which reminded us of how ten-year olds still prefer 'doing' to 'listening.'"

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Students visited Life Technologies where they helped with a community service project
and got a chance to experience a real lab environment.

Despite the fun they had racing each other to package foods, Judith says the students were enthusiastic about the other stations, one of which involved a tour of the Life Technologies labs and one which gave them a chance to interview scientists to find out more about their day-to-day work and what it really "means" to be a scientist. After the field trip, Judith and the other teachers had their students write about the experience, about the stations they visited, and about what they learned. From their comments, Judith says it was clear that the field trip was eye opening and meaningful. "Their writing revealed many ways in which their understanding of a scientist's daily life was altered," by what they saw and learned at Life Technologies, and what struck them was wide-ranging, says Judith. Things that stood out for her students included "the fact that employees walked on treadmills during meetings, the fact that every item in a lab station was outlined in blue tape, the fact that everything had to be kept clean to the point of having sticky mats at the doorways, and the way in which bacteria is 'grown.'"

After the field trip, Life Technologies volunteers came to the school and presented a one-hour lesson to each class focused on the problem of producing enough food in certain parts of the world to feed the local population. After a presentation on the problem, the students were divided up for a hands-on activity that both encouraged global thinking and social consciousness and also highlighted the role of biotechnology in helping address problems like world hunger. Each small group was "given the life story of a child with a description of his/her particular town or village somewhere in the world where the people are struggling to find a way to grow crops in their particular climate and habitat," explains Judith.

Using materials brought in by Life Technologies, "the students [studied] the growing requirements of various food crops to determine which traits would be a good match for the given habitat." After identifying the kinds of crops and traits that might succeed in the environment, they used "cloning scissors" to make a paper-based "clone" of a genetically engineered crop suited to the environment. The final component of the lesson involved having the students count bacteria on live trays so they could observe the results of cloning, a hands-on experience that offered a concrete look at the kind of biotechnology they had been talking about and hypothesizing using their paper-based crop models.


The Value of a Science Fair

The final activity related to InnovatioNation was the school science fair, the first for Judith's school, and the source of Judith's initial concern about taking part in InnovatioNation. "Our students did not yet understand how to formulate a testable question or how to conduct a controlled experiment," explains Judith. "But we knew that these skills were critical to understanding what it is to be a scientist, so we carved out the time to guide them through the process."


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"We very much appreciated the support that the Science Buddies website gave to us, both in presenting a plethora of experiments to choose from and [providing] thorough explanations of the components of an experiment." ~ Judith Carlstrom, North Broadway School

Part of the solution for teachers at North Broadway, involved their students spending time in another lab—the computer lab—and using resources available at Science Buddies. "My students used the Topic Selection Wizard and truly enjoyed looking for an experiment and printing it out," says Judith. As her students learned more about the scientific process, Judith handed out copies of key resource pages from the Science Buddies Project Guide, like how to construct a hypothesis statement, to help as they moved through the steps of the scientific method.

The science fair was held in conjunction with the school's end-of-year Open House. Volunteers from Life Technologies were on hand to judge the entries from the three fifth grade classes, using Science Buddies' Project Judging Scorecard for Elementary School. (See other  project scoring and grading rubrics.) Judith says the students were very excited about presenting their projects at the fair and "wore their lab coats from the Life Technologies field trip all day long." Following review and judging of all projects, three awards and a "special award" were presented in each class. "The students who emerged as winners, with the clearest explanation of the science behind their experiment, were not those you might have predicted," says Judith. "Their awards were possibly the highlight of their entire school year."


Looking Forward

For both the students and the teachers, the science fair was a success, and teachers at North Broadway plan to hold a science fair again next year, making it part of a school-wide Family Science Night. "I believe that hands-on science is the only way to teach in fifth grade, and I believe that it needs to be elevated to a position of importance in the eyes of both students and parents," says Judith. "A science fair does just that."

Judith's experience with InnovatioNation and her school's first science fair has given her concrete ideas for ways they will modify their approach next year. For example, she says they may focus next year's fair on Life Sciences projects to better complement their work with InnovatioNation. They also hope to modify their Friday science lab time so that it follows the process students will use in their own projects. "We are going to ask our lab instructor to begin all of her labs with a form of testable question or hypothesis and close the lab with a conclusion. This way they will be better prepared for their own experiments," explains Judith.

Judith and North Broadway School will again be participating in InnovatioNation this coming year. "I am truly excited that our school has been chosen to work for a second year with Life Technologies and Science Buddies!"




Science Buddies Project Ideas in Genetics and Genomics are sponsored by support from Life Technologies Foundation.

Life Technologies Foundation

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Americans spend billions on cosmetics every year. Who creates and tests all of these shampoos and lotions? Cosmetic chemists!

By Kim Mullin


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Emma Sesar was surrounded by science fair attendees last Spring as she handed out samples of the lip balms she developed as part of her science project.
Why was Emma Sesar surrounded by groups of young girls at her school science fair? Lip balm samples! For her sixth-grade science project, Emma chose the "Lotions and Potions: Lessons in Cosmetic Chemistry" Project Idea because she is a fan of lip balm and wanted to explore the world of cosmetic chemistry.

Guided by recipes and procedures in the Project Idea, Emma created three different lip balms and then formulated questions to ask her test subjects. As she cooked up her custom creations, she had fun learning about the different components of lip balms, such as emollients, emulsifiers, and stabilizers, especially because many of the ingredients smell so good. Throughout the process, Emma found the Science Buddies Project Guide "extremely helpful" and was pleased that her project turned out so well.

What really surprised Emma, however, were the crowds that swarmed her at the science fair. After working hard on a project, the science fair allows students to show off their work, and Emma was certainly able to do that! Her creative project display board and enticing lip balm samples attracted a lot of attention. "I was surrounded by young girls for the entire fair," says Emma. "I ended up giving some students second, third, and fourth testers!"


A Positive Science Experience

Will Emma be the next Estée Lauder? She has many different interests, so she doesn't know what she wants to do when she grows up. However, she looks forward to perfecting her lip balm recipe and also plans to participate in next year's school science fair!

Read about Emma's teacher's use of Science Buddies in the classroom and other student science successes in the Science Buddies in Action area.


New Project Kit!

Project Kit
A Science Buddies Project Kit is now available for the "Lotions and Potions" science project. Project Kits make it easy to gather the materials, including specialty or difficult-to-find items, needed for a Science Buddies Project Idea, and kit supplies arrive in one convenient box. View a full description of the "Lotions and Potions" kit contents.


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This fourth-grade student had fun building and playing with a solar-powered bot—and learned about alternative energy and electricity in the process!


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As a fourth-grade student, Keeley (above) investigated how effective different light sources are for a solar-powered robot. Read about other student science successes in the Science Buddies in Action area.
For his first science fair project, Keeley Hilliard explored Avatar-style water bending using an Archimedes screw pump. It's a classic mechanical engineering device, perfect for a leaky ship, but for a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the screw pump experiment was a great way to simulate the mystical field of water bending—with science. Last year, building on his successful third-grade project, Keeley shifted his focus from water to another core element—the Sun. Based on a recommendation from the Science Buddies Topic Selection Wizard, Keeley selected the "The Frightened Grasshopper: Explore Electronics & Solar Energy with a Solar-Powered Robot Bug" Project Idea for his fourth-grade science fair at Educational Horizons in Florida.

Part of the newly launched Robotics Interest Area at Science Buddies, the "Frightened Grasshopper" Project Idea guides elementary students in an introductory exploration of one aspect of robotics—power. The project, which invites an investigation of solar and alternative energy, uses a small and inexpensive robotic bug to let students see, hands-on, how a solar panel works to convert certain kinds of light energy to electrical energy. When Keeley bought his materials for the project, he decided to mix things up a bit. Instead of the grasshopper kit, he took a two-legged approach with the T3 robot, a fitting selection as he asked: can man-made light effectively power a solar robot?

Keeley got help from his Dad with the construction of the robot. "Some of the design details were pretty tough," he admits. The T3 converts to several engaging forms, robot, tank, and scorpion, but the shape of the bot doesn't really matter in this robotics investigation. What matters is the size of the solar panel, the source of light, and the intensity of the radiant energy from the light. Once the solar panel was in place, Keeley was all set to test a range of light sources, including light bulbs in varying wattages, all pitted against the Sun.

Many questions can be asked in this experiment, starting with whether or not man-made light works for "solar power." If it does work, why and how? Does artificial light work as well as natural light? How long does solar power last? What happens overnight or on a cloudy day? For a young engineer, observing a robot's behavior and energy when it gets its juice from different kinds of light is fun but also offers first-hand insight and a chance to draw conclusions and formulate other questions about alternative energy.

At ten, Keeley is interested in robotics, electronics, video game design, and other areas of physical science, which made the "Frightened Grasshopper" project an exciting choice for him. The project also gave him a chance to explore questions related to energy and power, questions that have real-world significance and that built upon his core interest in engineering. At the fair, Keeley's investigation earned a repeat first place in the Physical Sciences division. He then moved on to the district science fair, where he took fifth place.

Keeley is already looking forward to this year's science fair. In addition to feeding his enthusiasm for science, his first two successful fairs have given him confidence. "I have already picked out my project, thanks to Science Buddies," Keeley told us. "But you will have to wait before I tell you what it is. I want the Triple Crown!"

We can't wait to hear what he chooses and where science takes this young engineer next.


Share Your Robotics Stories

Are you or your students interested in robotics? We would like to hear your robotics stories! If you have completed or are considering a robotics project for your science or engineering project, let us know about your project or experience.





Project Ideas in the new Robotics Interest Area at Science Buddies are supported, in part, by generous donation from Symantec Corporation.

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A top math and science student, fifteen-year-old Jack Andraka swept the 2012 Intel ISEF with his pancreatic cancer screening test. His project involved countless hours in the lab, a determined search for a mentor, and loads of perseverance.


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Jack Andraka, winner of the 2012 Intel ISEF, applied nanotechnology in the development of his pancreatic cancer screening test. Jack (pictured above with his project display board) says he is "fascinated" by nanotubes, "specifically carbon nanotubes due to their spectacular properties," and had been reading scientific journal articles on nanotubes for fun before he started his project.

"That is why I knew about the property concerning the distance between nanotubes and its impact on their electrical properties." That property, something he picked up through casual reading, plays an integral role in his screening test. (Photo: Intel ISEF, IML Photography)

Last Spring, Jack Andraka, a 9th-grade student at North County High School in Glen Burnie, MD, took top honors at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), winning the Gordon E. Moore award for his development of a screening test that can detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages. With stories about Jack appearing in publications and media ranging from Forbes and MAKE to ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer and his own TED Talent Search talk, it may seem like Jack went from ordinary student to science superstar overnight. In reality, the science-studded path that led him to a sweeping win at last year's Intel ISEF is one Jack has been charting for several years.

In a pre-judging interview at Intel ISEF, Jack referred to the competition as the "Olympics of science fairs." With boy-next-door charm, he said, "it's just amazing to be here, even if I don't get a prize." A hundred thousand dollars in prize money and a game-changing breakthrough in cancer detection later, Jack remains astoundingly down to earth.


A First Fair

Jack began his science fair history with an environmental science project in the sixth grade. "It was on retrofitting low-head dams for safety," says Jack. "Basically there are these dams that allow water to flow over the top of the dam, and they create these dangerous hydraulic conditions that kill many people every year. I found a way to retrofit them to get rid of the dangerous hydraulic conditions," he explains, noting that he later presented the project at the Discovery Young Scientist Challenge 2011 and the USA Science and Engineering Festival. That first science fair experience triggered what Jack refers to as his 'winning streak' and launched him onto the science fair scene. With wins at multiple science fairs, including all three years at his middle school, Jack has tackled a range of increasingly sophisticated science challenges with his yearly science fair projects.

His Intel ISEF science success last year straddles fields of medicine, biochemistry, and nanotechnology, but Jack's interest in science and math is broad ranging and is something his close-knit family shares. "Science pretty much runs in the Andraka family," says Jack. Both of his parents are in scientific fields, his brother was a two-time competitor at Intel ISEF, and many of his other family members, including aunts, uncles, and his grandfather, are involved in science. It was a friend, not a family member, however, that inspired Jack's winning science project last year.


A Personal Connection

When a close family friend died of pancreatic cancer, Jack says he was devastated. As he dealt with the loss, he focused his science acumen on learning as much as he could about the disease. "As I dug deeper into pancreatic cancer, I found that there is really no practical way to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages," explains Jack. The lack of methods for early detection causes many cases to be diagnosed late, which leads to correspondingly low survival rates. As he assessed the statistics, Jack realized that the timing of detection is part of a widespread medical problem in need of a solution—a solution he might be able to help find. As he finished up his final year of middle school, Jack started down an ambitious path for a rising high school scientist—the development of a reliable early detection method for pancreatic cancer.

Less than a year later, Jack exhibited his project, first at the school fair, then at a string of fairs, including the regional fair, I-SWEEP, and the 2012 Intel ISEF. In a nutshell, what Jack developed is an inexpensive, paper-based dip test that can detect pre-pancreatic cancer. It is a test that, on some level, resembles the kinds of familiar testing strips used by diabetics and home pregnancy tests.

"Essentially what I have created is a paper sensor that can detect a wide array of diseases that have reliable biomarkers," explains Jack. "The sensor works by detecting this one cancer biomarker that is overexpressed in pancreatic cancer, as well as in ovarian and lung cancer, called mesothelin." Jack's quest for a strip-based sensor led him to nanotechnology and the use of carbon nanotubes. "Single-walled carbon nanotubes are atom-thick tubes of carbon that have fantastic properties. In my case, I was using the fact that the distance between neighboring nanotubes in a network highly impacts how electricity is transported in the network." Within the network, Jack explains, a capture molecule that binds only with mesothelin forms a larger molecule, which pushes apart neighboring nanotubes and alters the electrical properties.

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"I did research on the disease and found that there is no inexpensive, sensitive, selective, minimally invasive, and simple assay for pancreatic cancer. So I decided to do a project on a method for the detection of pancreatic cancer."
~ Jack Andraka
By measuring the electrical properties, Jack's test can detect pancreatic cancer, possibly even before the cancer becomes invasive.

For a student with no previous experience doing medical research, creating, testing, and troubleshooting a pancreatic screening solution was a major undertaking. As he surveyed areas of scientific interest in previous projects, Jack had explored some biochemistry, including "using bioluminescent bacteria to detect water pollution," and some nanotechnology, including comparing "the effects of nanoparticles versus bulk particles on aquatic organisms." But he admits that he started down the path of pancreatic cancer research knowing next to nothing about cancer and armed with only high-school biology and a fascination with nanotubes. In what may be typical "Jack Andraka style," Jack took the project step by step, starting with extensive research. "Basically, I started by doing tons of research on pancreatic cancer, its biomarkers, how it is currently detected, carbon nanotubes, etc."

Luckily, Jack's previous science projects had given him a solid foundation in lab techniques and procedures, as well as in patience, meticulous attention to detail, and strategies for troubleshooting an experimental procedure.


In Search of a Lab

With the sophisticated project Jack was undertaking, access to a research lab was a necessity. After months of preliminary research, he needed to get into a lab environment to take his project and idea to the next step. When you are fifteen, the road to finding a mentor and lab access, however, isn't always easy. According to Jack, after doing his research and writing up a complete procedure for the project he had planned, he made a list of researchers at local universities and institutions, including Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "I compiled a list of about 200 researchers who were working on early diagnosis or pancreatic cancer and sent emails to every single one of them with my procedure, materials list, budget, and timeline attached," says Jack. "After introducing myself and giving them my resume and previous experience, I asked if I could conduct my experiment in their lab, and, if they couldn't help me, if they knew someone who could."

Jack received 199 rejections. One contact, however, pointed him in the direction of Dr. Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology and Oncology at Johns Hopkins University's Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center. Disheartened by the grim results of his email campaign, Jack says he sent a "plaintive" email to Dr. Maitra who agreed to meet with him. He had his foot in the door, but acceptance to the lab wasn't automatic. Jack first had to prove his mettle to Dr. Maitra and his colleagues. "He finally accepted me into his lab after an intense question session composed of him, another professor, and several post-doctorates grilling me about the specifics of my project." All of Jack's research and preparation paid off. He fielded the questions and landed the mentorship and lab access he needed to move the project forward.

Finally able to put his project in motion, Jack worked through the fall. As his mom, Jane Andraka, recounts, once he got permission to use the lab, he was there every chance he could get. "Every day after school, every weekend, every day over Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were spent in the lab," says Jane.


The Road to Intel ISEF

The school science fair was just around the corner when Jack's test turned up conclusive results and he knew it worked. "It was a very tight timeline that I had," he recalls, "however, I was insanely excited when it worked, and I was jumping off the walls because of that!" With his initial results in hand, Jack began his preparations for the science fair. After winning the fair, he and eight of his classmates advanced to the regional fair where they would compete for the two spots to move on to Intel ISEF in Pittsburgh. Having consulted Science Buddies' Project Display Board resources in his early science fair years, Jack knows the importance of a strong, well-organized display board and spent the two months between his school fair and the regional fair "refining" his presentation style and display. The time passed quickly, and as he set up his board at the regional fair, he remembers being anxious. "I looked around, and there was some pretty stiff competition," says Jack, who won a grand prize and advanced to Intel ISEF.

Even with a spot at Intel ISEF secured, Jack didn't sit home and wait idly for Intel ISEF. Immediately before the Intel ISEF, he participated in the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering, and Environment Project (I-SWEEEP), an event he says gave him extra practice for Intel ISEF. "I was ecstatic when I won a gold medal there and brought home lots of goodies including a massive Canadian flag, a hat from Azerbaijan, and scarves from India and Nigeria." He also presented his research alongside graduate and post-doctoral students at the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) symposium.

Despite the string of successes, Jack was pragmatic about his chances as he headed to Pittsburgh for his first Intel ISEF. He is, after all, a math whiz. "When I first looked at all of the projects at ISEF, I was like 'Well only one-third will get an award, so I have no chance of getting an award.'" But during the exhibition hours, Jack says approximately seventy judges visited his board, including judges from other categories like environmental management, mathematics, and physics. He was "blown away" by the interest in his project, but he kept a damper on his excitement—until he won six special awards at the special awards ceremony. "I was like freaking out," says Jack. "All I had wanted was one prize."

That evening ceremony was only the beginning of a tidal wave of recognition for his project. "When I got first place in category, I ran up and was laughing, crying, and screaming with my friend who also got first place.


blog_2012_andraka_win.jpg(Photo: Intel ISEF, Chris Ayers Photography)

Supporting a Top Science Student: A Parent's Perspective

With two ISEF contenders in the house, it isn't surprising that Jack's mom, Jane, a medical anesthetist, dubs herself a "science fair mom." "I became 'science fair mom' after my boys decided to compete seriously," says Jane Andraka. "I hunted science competitions on the Internet and presented these opportunities to them. They would choose if they wanted to enter or not and take it from there."

With each of Jack's science projects, Jane has played a key role as supporter, chauffeur, and sounding board. Things sometimes go wrong, and Jane can list plenty of examples of stumbling blocks that have appeared along the way, from cultures dying to problems with delivery. Sometimes, says Jane, recounting Jack's seventh-grade project, all she could do was keep buying more cultures and reassuring him that the pitfalls were part of the process.

As his project progressed last fall, Jane took Jack back and forth to the lab where he was conducting his research. He spent all his free time in the lab and often, Jane admits, fell asleep in the car on the way home. With the fair date drawing close, "I begged him to do one test to see if it worked before he left for the day," recalls Jane. "The expression on his face was so wonderful. He was so happy when it worked, and the entire lab was super excited also. I think his previous projects, as well as his math studies, which taught him to solve problems with perseverance and creativity in a step-by-step fashion, helped him succeed."

From Jane's perspective, one of the most important things for top students and their families to keep in mind is to have students choose projects about which they are excited. "Don't try to force a project," advises Jane. "If you have no interest in a subject, don't try to force yourself to do one just because the subject happens to be popular with judges that season. Projects take lots and lots of time, effort, perseverance, and overcoming obstacles and disappointments. Not hard to do if you love your subject; almost impossible to do if you don't have the passion!"

When Best in Category rolled around, I was like 'Pssh, no chance of me winning that,' so I freaked out about that and was jumping around and hugging everyone. When I won the Gordon E. Moore Award, I was flabbergasted. I mean, I didn't think I had a chance at a prize, and here I won the grand award! I would have run much faster and ran all around the stage if the camera crew hadn't told me to slow down. I honestly still cannot believe I won the award."


A Top Science Teen

Competing in a top science fair often requires many hours and many months working in a lab, analyzing data, or doing research. Students like Jack who are dedicated to a particular subject or interest have to work extra hard to balance the time they spend on science projects with the regular rigors of high school and teenage life. For Jack, the key is being selective and being careful not to over-extend himself. "I balance my time by not joining thousands of clubs and activities that I don't feel passionate about. I've limited myself to three main activities: math competition, whitewater kayaking, and, of course, science fair," says Jack. "This way my time is not bogged down with a bunch of commitments that I'm not passionate about."

Depending on the school, many advanced science students find themselves without science peers, a reality that underlies many of the stories in Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch . . . and What It Takes to Win, a collection of profiles of top science students. Jack admits that he isn't surrounded by high school science enthusiasts. "At my school the majority of the students are not even interested in science much less scientific research," he says. Luckily, Jack has met peers at various competitions and camps and has created a network of friends he catches up with online and looks forward to seeing at competitions and reconnects with during summer camps like MathPath (which he attended regularly until this past summer when he was accepted to Idea Math).

As a kid, he was star struck by past winners of Intel ISEF and the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), even collecting and memorizing STS "photo cards," much like other kids collect baseball cards, recalls his mom. Jack, too, remembers being mesmerized by the winners and the idea of following in their footsteps. Today, he is one of those winners, and while his peers at North County High keep him grounded, he's also happy to have a solid group of like-minded friends. "I get my 'science fair fix' from talking with my friends from math and science competitions via Skype or Facebook," says Jack.

When asked who inspires him, Jack cites Sir Andrew Wiles, the mathematician famous for proving Fermat's Last Theorem. "He decided [when] he was a kid that he would prove Fermat's Last Theorem," explains Jack, "and after more than 30 years he did, showing that persistence mixed with some luck and intelligence always will help you achieve your dreams." While Jack's science and math career is just getting underway, his interpretation of the value of an almost whimsical combination of chance and applied knowledge seems right on track for this top student. Indeed, it's a formula and perspective that may have already helped him as he navigated the ups and downs of recent projects.


Moving Forward

High school for the Gordon E. Moore winner goes on. Even after winning last spring, Jack had to finish up the school year. "After winning at Intel ISEF, Jack was fortunate to have so many opportunities that the whole family was just overwhelmed," admits his mom. "First though, he had to finish the school year and take AP tests!" Once he wrapped things up at school, Jane says the family hired a patent lawyer, and Jack continued doing pilot studies. Even as negotiations with lawyers and companies interested in his research continue, Jack will be starting his sophomore year this September.

Winning Intel ISEF comes with both added responsibility and new levels of access to the scientific community. "I am going to use this award to catapult me into doing more scientific research," says Jack, who will be participating in fundraisers and conferences in coming months to raise awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer research. He also hopes to use his experience to help advance science education in his community. In the spirit of giving back, he is starting a science fair club at an inner-city school to encourage more students to explore science.

Using Science Buddies as a resource, Jack hopes to inspire and excite students who may have no science experience or little exposure to hands-on science and who might otherwise not undertake a science fair project. "I plan on helping them come up with an idea and then developing it into a science fair project," says Jack. "I think Science Buddies is the best resource in the world, and whenever I meet a teacher, I always recommend it to her/him to share with their class," says Jack, who used Science Buddies' Project Display Board resource when working on his first science projects. As a top competitor, Jack also used and benefited from Science Buddies' Advanced Project Guide materials and tips on how to succeed at the science fair.

Jack believes Science Buddies will be an important resource for his club because "Science Buddies makes science understandable." In addition to helping students choose projects, Jack hopes to expose students to other areas of science. "I will help to teach them some advanced science materials and about some lesser-known fields in middle school such as materials science and research mathematics," he explains. "I am extremely excited!"

Even with everything else going on, Jack is already planning his next project. "I do plan on doing another science fair project, probably in the medical field, but I'm keeping that a surprise for next year."




Science Buddies resources, like the Project Display Board guide, remain free for students, teachers, and parents, thanks to generous support from companies like Elmer's® Products.
Elmer's® Products is the official classroom sponsor for Science Buddies.

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A science teacher at Brawerman Elementary School in Los Angeles views Science Buddies as an indispensable classroom partner, especially when it comes to helping students locate quality science Project Ideas—in all areas of interest.


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Above: Teacher Lisa Niver Rajna with a student at last year's school science fair. Science Buddies is an important part of Lisa's approach to science education in the classroom. Lisa's students used the Topic Selection Wizard to help them locate exciting projects, many of which have real-world connections and applications that she encouraged them to explore.

Some of the Project Ideas Lisa's students selected last year include:

Students in grades three through six at Wilshire Boulevard Temple's Brawerman Elementary School in Los Angeles all participate in the school's annual science fair. While doing a Science Buddies Project Idea is not a requirement in Lisa Niver Rajna's science classes, all of her fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students begin their search for a science fair project by using the Topic Selection Wizard, a Science Buddies tool that suggests science projects to students based on their interests, assignment, timeline, and grade level.


Finding the Right Project

From Lisa's perspective, the project selection phase of the science fair assignment is a "crucial" step in the process. "I want each student to care and be passionate about her topic," says Lisa, who has been using Science Buddies and the Topic Selection Wizard with students at Brawerman for several years. When she talks with her fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes about the science fair project assignment, Lisa says she "highly recommends" that they choose a Science Buddies project, and she allots valuable classroom time for her students to use the Wizard. Despite the crunch many teachers feel in fitting all the pieces of core curriculum into the hours of a school year, using class time to have students use the Wizard is a process that helps both Lisa and her students.

Students who work on a project in which they are interested typically enjoy the science project experience more than students who are assigned a project topic or are guided to an area of science based on someone else's suggestions or interests. The Wizard's sophisticated algorithm uses student answers to a variety of simple questions like "Do you enjoy discovering new ways to recycle, restore, or reclaim used material and objects?" to recommend a unique group of projects for each student. Because the Wizard's questions touch on a wide range of areas of science, each student's combination of answers reveal individual patterns of possible interest.

With the Wizard's help, Lisa's students discover exciting projects they may enjoy (and might not have found on their own), and Lisa sees students choose and conduct robust science explorations that are scientifically sound and challenging. "I love the Topic Selection Wizard," says Lisa. "It seems to work as a multiple intelligences fit. I am always impressed by the variety of topics and experiments and how well the choices offered fit each individual student."

After answering the Topic Selection Wizard questions, Lisa has her students look over the Wizard's recommendations and pick the three in which they are most interested. "I tell them, 'you are going to be working on this project for a long time.' We start in February, and the fair is in May. We go through each step [of the scientific process]; we do research. I tell them, 'Pick something you want to know more about. Something you like.'" After her students narrow down their lists of possible projects, she talks with them about their choices. "We discuss what would be the best fit for them based on interest, difficulty, and what they did in the past."

According to Lisa, last year, almost all of the eighty fourth and fifth grade science fair projects were based on Science Buddies Project Ideas, as were a large number of the forty sixth grade entries. A number of Lisa's students explored video game-based projects, including a team of students that worked on developing a game for the blind. Other students made their own paint, lip gloss, and markers, explored desalination, built circuits, crystal radios, bridges, and solar-powered robotic creatures, and experimented with the perfect carbonated soda recipe.


Making Real-world Connections

For Lisa, tying science exploration to real-world events, issues, and problems is all part of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education process. In her classroom, science is not a standalone subject. Instead, Lisa teaches science as a subject that is connected to everything. "I work hard to make sure they see the connections between what we are studying in class and life outside the classroom," says Lisa. Her classroom lessons and discussions include social issues, global concerns, and examples from other countries, steps she takes to broaden her students' understanding and awareness of the world around them. "Making connections between science and real life as well as science and other subjects is a major focus of my teaching," explains Lisa. "I integrate with art, library, and as many teachers as possible. Students need to see how science is connected to everything."

When it came to last year's end-of-year science projects, Lisa's classroom emphasis on real-life connections gave added context to her students' projects. Many of them took additional steps during the research and background stage of the scientific process to learn more about how their research might matter and to get a better understanding of the problem or challenge at hand. For example, a group of students working on developing video games that can be successfully played by blind people visited a local center for the blind. Lisa helped connect a team working on a solar cooking project with a group that has a solar cooker project in Africa.

Rather than simply completing a project to fulfill an assignment, these students emerged with a broader view of the importance of their research—and of the value of science and engineering in the world beyond the classroom. One of Lisa's fourth-grade students, Andrew, researched the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. Andrew conducted his testing using a Wii-based driving video game, but at the end of his project, Andrew felt that he had "gathered data that could save lives."

"When I suggested connections with their science fair projects, most of them were really excited and wanted to add the community connection," says Lisa. "I loved to see the 'a-ha' in their eyes when they saw how their project fit in with something outside of our classroom."


Supporting STEM Teachers in the Classroom

Lisa relies on Science Buddies for her students, but she also appreciates Science Buddies teacher-focused resources and the fact that Science Buddies continues to expand offerings to enable students and teachers to explore cutting-edge areas of science. After seeing a survey from Science Buddies that asked "do you allow engineering projects," Lisa says she learned more about the engineering design process and made a point to incorporate it into her teaching. Similarly, she notes making both environmental science and video and computer game projects a "priority" based on Science Buddies materials.

When asked what is the most important element in exciting students about science and engineering, Lisa boils it down to finding the science (and the science project) in areas of personal interest. "The most important thing to me is that everyone cares about their project. I want them to learn about their passions, to find their passions and to see that science is everywhere. One mom called me and said, 'Really, watching movies is their science fair homework? You have to be kidding me.' She thought they kids had gotten away with a sneak attack. But those two girls worked so hard. They watched movies and made charts and created a PowerPoint. They talked to the music teacher, and I was able to connect them with a friend who is an award-winning film editor. They loved the project, they worked hard, and they had a great time. I wish that every child could enjoy learning as much as they did. If you find a way to reach your students, they will be excited about science or any other topic."

Science Buddies is proud to have been a part of Lisa's classroom solution, and a cornerstone for helping Lisa ignite enthusiasm for science—and for real-world connections—among her students. Lisa is spending the coming school year out of the classroom and traveling in Asia. She will be documenting her journey, and her commitment to global education, on the Wandering Educators site and on her own site, WeSaidGoTravel: A Passport to a Global Community.

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"Distracted driving" accounts for a staggering number of accidents. A fourth grade student in LA put distracted drivers to the test with a familiar video game.


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Andrew Lee, pictured above, put questions about cell phone use and driving to the test using a popular driving-based video game. "I collected data that could save lives," he says.

Science Buddies Project Ideas in Video & Computer Games assist students in exploring science and engineering questions both by using video games and by designing their own. Read about other student science successes in the Science Buddies in Action area.

Attention to the Road

Public service announcements warn about the dangers of texting while driving, and the Governors Highway Safety Association® notes that as of July 2012, 39 states have laws against texting while driving. Some states have additional laws regulating other kinds of cellphone usage while driving. California law, for instance, mandates hands-free cellphone use (although even this is not allowed for certain categories of drivers). With an estimated 8000 crashes every day being attributed to what is commonly referred to as "distracted driving," and statistics suggesting that hands-on cellphone use while driving quadruples the chance of an accident, the data seems clear: cellular multitasking while driving is dangerous.

Singling in on texting, Parkview Trauma Center's Dont Text and Drive campaign warns that texting while driving makes you 23 times more likely to have a crash. Alarmingly, statistics even suggest that the risk of accident when texting while driving is even higher than the high rate of accident associated with driving under the influence of alcohol. While accident and fatality statistics related to cell phone usage paint a grim picture, increasingly cellphone-connected lifestyles have turned car-time, for some, into check-in time for voice mail, email, and other cell communications.

Are all forms of phone-based distraction equal? Does using a headset for hands-free talking lessen the risk of an accident? What about other in-car activities that may also compromise a driver's full attention to the road? Have you ever driven by someone who is reading or putting on lipstick while driving? Are all forms of while-driving activities comparable in terms of distraction and risk?


Science Buddies in Action: A Video Game Simulation

As a fourth grade student in Los Angeles, Andrew Lee decided to put "distracted driving" to the test, not on the road but with video games. For his first science fair project, Andrew chose the "Distracted Driver: Do Distractions Affect Driving Video Game Scores?" project because he is interested in how the brain works and he thought it "would be fun to do a science experiment involving video games."

After doing his background research, Andrew used the Science Buddies Project Idea to help design an experiment that would let him observe and evaluate different forms of distraction and how they influence a driver's ability to drive safely within a driving-style video game. Following the steps of the scientific method, Andrew came up with his main hypothesis. "My hypothesis was that driving video game scores become lower (worse) when the driver is distracted," he says. A second hypothesis for his project targeted which kind of distraction might result in the worst scores.


Distracted Drivers

Using Mario Kart for the Wii and the wheel attachment for the remote control to better simulate real-world driving, Andrew observed test subjects playing the game with different levels of distraction present, including no distraction, talking on a cell phone, and emailing using a cell phone.

The data Andrew collected as a result of his testing showed that, while some people handle distractions better than others, and not all distractions are equal, "distraction" can be detrimental for drivers. Andrew observed that players scored highest and took the least amount of time to navigate a course when there were no distractions present. "Every driver got a better score and had less crashes when there were no distractions while they were driving," reports Andrew, reasoning that the players were able to concentrate more fully on the game. On the flip side, every driver performed worst when engaged in one of his "distraction" activities while playing the driving game.

In the end, Andrew proved his hypothesis and observed, firsthand, the ways in which sources of distraction may impact, split, or change a person's ability to focus on the task at hand—all of which may have dangerous implications for drivers at the wheel. "When a driver is holding something (like a phone) their driving gets worse," says Andrew.

Andrew's game-based simulation of distracted driving was low-risk but underscored the potential for similar real-world danger. "When you are playing a driving video game, the worst thing that can happen is that your score is low or you bump another car," notes Andrew. "In real driving, someone could get really injured or worse. I hope everyone learns from this experiment and drives safely in the future."


On the Road

For Andrew, who says he wants to be an inventor someday, his first science fair was a powerful first step. "I collected data that could save lives," says Andrew. But he also had a lot of fun with his science fair project. "It was a great experience, and it was my favorite project of the whole year. I can't wait to participate again next year."

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A 6th-grader combines his interests in chemistry and renewable energy with a particular goal in mind: to save the world with science!


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Matthew Early, pictured above, turned his enthusiasm for renewable energy into a winning science project. The "Water to Fuel to Water: The Fuel Cycle of the Future" Project Idea was developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as part of a Science Buddies Academic Outreach Partnership. Partnerships like this one help make cutting-edge science, fresh from university laboratories, possible topics for K-12 student exploration.

Student Success Stories
To read about other inspiring student and teacher science project successes, visit the Science Buddies in Action page!

Fueling the Future

From rising ocean levels to extreme weather, global climate change continues to make headlines. As a result, interest in renewable energy, even among elementary and middle-school students, is on the rise. Drawn to the topic, Matthew Early completed his first renewable energy project in 4th grade when he studied salt's effect on the efficiency of electrolysis for hydrogen production. The following year, he continued his exploration of renewable energy by comparing the heat produced by vegetable and petroleum-based oils. Explains Matthew, "I want to use chemistry to try to make the world a better place. I want to save the world with science!"


Inspired by MIT Research

When it was time to choose his 6th grade project, Matthew, a student in Chicago, IL, turned to Science Buddies for another renewable energy challenge. While browsing through the chemistry section of the Project Ideas Index, the "Water to Fuel to Water: The Fuel Cycle of the Future" project captured his attention. This Project Idea, created by MIT as part of the Science Buddies Academic Outreach Program, lets students explore cutting-edge methods for storing renewable energy by breaking up water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Matthew was excited about working with such fresh and important research, and despite the complexity of the project, the accompanying video convinced him to give it a try. "After watching the video of the MIT researchers performing this experiment, I felt more confident that I could do and understand this project."

The Project Idea suggests trying cobalt as a catalyst for breaking up water molecules and then exploring other catalyst possibilities. After initial background research, Matthew decided to add nickel, manganese, copper, and iron to his project. Working with the manganese dioxide proved to be tricky. Matthew discovered too late that it is not water soluble, and it is magnetic, so it stuck to the stir bar and was tough to clean up. Another challenge was writing up his results, but throughout the process, Matthew found that Science Buddies made a great lab partner. "The Project Guide was especially helpful for forming my hypothesis and the overall question, and the Electronics Primer was very helpful for learning about breadboards and voltmeters, which were essential to my project."


Project Ignites Student Interest

When asked what he learned from his project, "So much!" is Matthew's enthusiastic response. "I learned all about alternative fuels. Not replacing our current fuels with alternative fuels has a large environmental and social impact.... Some alternatives, such as solar, wind, and hydrogen power have potential as readily available, clean, renewable energy sources, but many production, storage, and delivery issues need to be worked out."

Expanding his awareness of green issues was only part of what Matthew took away from this year's science project. He may have struggled to write up his research results, but when it comes to articulating the value of his hands-on exploration, he's got a ready list. "I learned about electronics...how to hook circuits up to a breadboard and a voltmeter and use them. I learned a lot about chemistry, especially about catalysts.... I also learned that chemistry is a part of everything, including the development of alternative fuels and how plants obtain food by photosynthesis, which is really another fuel. Chemistry is in nature! And, I learned about the importance of good writing and communicating about science...."

Matthew's enthusiasm about renewable energy paid off with a first place ribbon in the 6th grade division at his school. He also entered his project in the Rosalind Franklin Chemistry Contest, co-sponsored by Science Buddies and the Astellas USA Foundation. Matthew won first place in the 6th-8th grade boys' division.

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A Science Buddies Ask an Expert advisor guides a budding microbiologist through a project on the scourge of the teenage years: acne!


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In his senior-year science project, Matthew Brewer (pictured above) tackled a problem familiar to many teenagers—acne. Project Ideas in Medical Biotechnology enable students to investigate questions related to connections between medicine, genomics, diseases, prescription drugs, and more.

Read about other student science successes in the Science Buddies in Action area.

Acne is an unhappy rite of passage for most adolescents, and as a twelfth grade student, Matthew Brewer of Lafayette, CA, was no exception to the rule. When the Science Buddies Topic Selection Wizard suggested the "Which Acne Medication Can Really Zap That Zit?" project from Science Buddies' Medical Biotechnology section, Matthew felt like it was a natural fit for him. "I am interested in microbiology, and I want to help acne sufferers of all ages because I know what a negative effect it can have on self-esteem."

The resources in Science Buddies' Medical Biotechnology section are designed to help students investigate the ways in which drugs and medications work in the body—and the impact of individual biological and genetic differences. Matthew's project, which involved testing the antibacterial properties of a variety of acne medications, proved to be both interesting and challenging for him and his project partner. When Matthew needed help pinpointing the similarities between E. coli bacteria and P. acnes, the bacteria commonly found in acne, he visited the Science Buddies Ask an Expert forums. It was Donna Hardy, a longtime Ask an Expert advisor from Bio-Rad Laboratories, who guided him to resources that could answer his questions.

As the project progressed, Matthew confronted several hurdles: finding the right antibacterial agents to test, nutrient agar plates that didn't grow bacteria as expected, and water pooling on plates in the incubator. As he and his teammate faced each new challenge, Matthew continued to correspond with Donna via the forums. "We could not have completed the project if it weren't for all the support I received from Ask an Expert and Donna," says Matthew, "and the project would not have received the awards that it did."

The project required a lot of hard work and long hours, but Matthew says he is glad that he did it. "The experience I gained from this will last a lifetime. This project taught me to be patient, to deal with the obstacles that life throws you, and to never give up." In addition to the personal lessons learned from his senior science project experience, Matthew's project won third place in the Contra Costa Science and Engineering Fair (CCCSEF) and two other special awards: a Chevron Innovation Award and a John Muir award for the Advancement of the Future of Health Care.




Science Buddies Project Ideas in Medical Biotechnology are sponsored by the Amgen Foundation.
Science Buddies Project Ideas in Biotechnology Techniques are sponsored by Bio-Rad Laboratories and its Biotechnology Explorer program.

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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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Sixth-grader explores the ancient Egyptian science of mummification and learns that history and science make a winning pair!


Student Minding Your Mummies Science Project

For her sixth grade science project, Emily Aguilar (pictured above) learned more about Egyptian history by mummifying a hot dog. Emily's science fair experience also underscores the value of a well-designed project display board. For more information about creating a winning display board, see "Perfecting the Project Display Board" and "Science Fair Project Display Boards."

Read about other student science successes in the Science Buddies in Action area.

By Kim Mullin


Mind Your Mummy

Last September, Emily Aguilar was a sixth-grade history enthusiast in search of a science fair project. On the advice of her teacher, she visited the Science Buddies web site and used the Topic Selection Wizard to narrow down her choices. Enticed by the idea of learning more about ancient Egypt, she selected the "Minding Your Mummies: The Science of Mummification" project.

Luckily, this unique human biology project didn't require a trip to the Pyramids of Giza. Instead, Emily created her own modern-day mummy using a hot dog! She weighed and measured the hot dog at the beginning of the experiment, carefully recording the information in her lab notebook. Then, taking on the role of embalmer, she prepared the hot dog using baking soda to simulate the process of mummification. On days seven and ten of the process, she weighed and measured the hot dog again to see what changes had taken place. Through her project, Emily saw firsthand how mummification dessicates, or dries, a body, a step Egyptians took, using Natron salt, before wrapping and placing a dead body in a sarcophagus. "I also learned that mummified hot dogs smell pretty bad!" exclaims Emily.

When Emily was ready to make her display board, she returned to Science Buddies for ideas and guidance. A final step in the science project process, a student's project display board lets the student share the entire experience with an audience. "The Project Display Board page helped me plan the layout of my board," she says. "My board turned out so organized and neat." With her mummified hot dogs on display alongside the board, Emily's project generated a lot of interest!

Emily won second place at her school science fair and enjoyed the experience so much that she volunteered to go to the Ventura County Science Fair. At that fair, she also took second place in the "Product Science - Biological" division, which qualified her for the California State Science Fair. Of her trip to the state science fair, Emily says, "I had a lot of fun explaining my project to the public and joking around with the other kids. The judges thought my project was fun and original, but I was really surprised when the announcer called my name for an Honorable Mention the night of the award ceremony."

Now that her mummification project is all wrapped up, what does Emily have to say? "I can't wait to do it again next year!"



Science Buddies' Human Biology & Health Project Ideas are sponsored by the Medtronic Foundation. Support from Elmer's Products, the official classroom sponsor for Science Buddies, helps develop resources like the Science Fair Project Display Boards guide.

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Dylan Viale's fifth-grade science project gave him a chance to share something he enjoys with his grandmother, who is blind. Designing his first video game ever, Dylan created Quacky's Quest, a maze game you don't have to see to play!


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For his fifth grade science project, Dylan Viale (pictured above) used GameMaker to create a sound-based video game to share with his grandmother, who is blind. The project gave Dylan a firsthand look at what's involved in video game design, and his classmates got to try out his maze game—blindfolded. Read about other student science successes in the Science Buddies in Action area.

For related video and computer game resources, see the following:

As a fifth grader at Hidden Valley Elementary, Dylan had the option of doing a book report or a science project. Having explored both adhesives and ant repellents in science projects during the third and fourth grade, he again opted for a hands-on science exploration. This year, however, he pursued a topic that has both personal and social significance. Dylan wanted to see if he could design a video game that someone who is blind or has vision problems can play and enjoy. "I chose this project because I enjoy playing video games, and even though my grandmother has given me video games as birthday and Christmas presents, she has never been able to play the games since she cannot see them," explains Dylan. "I wanted to see if it [is] possible for a blind person to play video games."


Dylan's interest is both empathetic and inventive, and his project required him to put himself into the position of a blind gamer to better understand the issue. A typical video game involves both sight and sound, but it is possible to play many games even with the sound off. If you can see the game, you can still play. Dylan's project flips this around and asks whether or not being able to "see" a game is a required component in designing a game. "My science project was to see if I could design a video game for the blind using sound to replace sight," explains Dylan. By stepping back and questioning what actually "makes" a game, and what relationship sight and sound have to game play, Dylan immersed himself in game design issues, ones he hadn't necessarily considered when he was simply playing games for his own entertainment. You can mute the volume and still play, but what happens if you close your eyes and just listen?


Designing His First Video Game

Dylan hypothesized that if sound is used correctly within a game, then it is possible to create a game that a blind player can successfully play—and enjoy. "Because the video games that I play have sound in them, I thought that if I just put the sounds in the right places, a blind person would be able to move around." Building on that premise, Dylan took his first steps in video game development and design.

Dylan had not done any game programming before, but with his the goal of creating a sound-based video game in mind, he began researching his options for development. Based on resources at Science Buddies that suggest GameMaker as a creation tool for student video game projects, Dylan downloaded and installed GameMaker, worked through the tutorials, and began designing Quacky's Quest, a maze-oriented game that built upon his love of real-world hay mazes.


The 'Sound' of a Video Game

Developing a first video game can be challenging enough, but when your first game is one you hope will be playable both with and without being able to see the screen, the project takes on added complexity. Dylan, however, was up to the challenge. "I learned how much time and how many steps it takes to design a video game," he explains, "like creating sprites and making rooms and objects in a game." As Dylan quickly discovered, "programming a game is a lot of work, and every piece in the game requires a command, even an empty room."

In Quacky's Quest, "the goal is for the player to guide Quacky (the character in the game) through three different mazes to find the golden egg in the final room. Quacky follows a trail of diamonds and tries to avoid spiders and dynamite which happens when you go the wrong way," explains Dylan. From the description, you can imagine what the game looks like. But Dylan was determined to make a maze someone can navigate based on sound alone.

It's harder than it sounds! "Even one second of silence caused confusion," says Dylan. During early testing, he realized that it is easy to overlook places where sound cues are needed. "When I tested the game with my grandmother, [we] found that it had a serious problem," recalls Dylan. "Once she collected the diamonds in the game, there was no more sound. If she got confused in the maze and started getting lost, she [had] no way of knowing where she was going."

"I was surprised how much work it was to design the game," says Kelly Viale, Dylan's mother. "It was very involved (at least for a 10 year old). I was also surprised that when he came across a challenge in designing the game, he didn't want to quit."

Dylan went through several rounds of troubleshooting and tweaking to eliminate areas of confusion and to strengthen the sound cues in Quacky's Quest. To address some of the challenges that arose, he had to really think outside the box. For example, adding additional game elements behind Quacky as he moved forward in the maze helped solve a problem Dylan had observed when his grandmother tested an early version. "I had to program the game to drop boulders behind Quacky as he progressed through each maze, so that when she went backwards, it would make the negative sound of hitting a boulder or a wall."


A Winning Project

The project was harder than Dylan expected, but, in the end, he succeeded in developing a sound-guided game. His project won first place at his school science fair, and he went on to exhibit at the district fair. Quacky's Quest also earned Dylan the admiration of his classmates and teachers—and may have piqued curiosity about game design among other students. From Kelly's perspective, Dylan's project shows that when a gaming project is tied to the scientific or engineering process, the experience can have great value. Dylan's teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, was also supportive of Dylan's project. Though she encouraged the technical and engineering side of the project, she also pushed for him to follow the scientific method and test the game with blindfolded players so that he could gather data about the game. During this process, Dylan discovered that blindfolded players were actually slower at the game than his blind grandmother, who is used to taking cues from sound. "Sighted people were so used to using their eyes to play a game that it took them much longer to focus on the sounds," says Dylan.

"Dylan's project has created quite the interest at school," says Kelly, noting that more than a third of his classmates asked for a copy of their own to play at home. "I think that it is wonderful that this type of project teaches the kids how things work and that they have the ability to design a game," says Kelly.

For Dylan, the ultimate reward was personal. "The best part of the project was watching my grandmother actually play a video game," says Dylan. "I hope that one day video games will be available to all blind people."



Dylan has a number of interests, including karate, hiking, soccer and building with LEGO. While being a LEGO engineer currently makes his list of possible career paths, his first video game project has definitely sparked new interest.






Science Buddies resources and Project Ideas in Video & Computer Games are sponsored by support from the AMD Foundation.

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Three years in a row, this fifth grader has turned his interest in video games into a winning science investigation. For Xavier, a new science project assignment is a great opportunity to learn about another aspect of game design and development—and have fun at the same time. Game on!


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Xavier Downey (above) is a veteran science fair winner. Exploring various angles of science related to video game play and video game design, Xavier has made the leader boards at local science fairs three years in a row—and had fun in the process! Read about other student science successes in the Science Buddies in Action area.
When it comes to cutting-edge science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, a lot of weight is being thrown into turning the student-generation's engagement with video games into a direct conduit for scientific exploration and innovation. Rather than forcing kids to turn off the games, companies like AMD, through their AMD Changing the Game Initiative, and other proponents of Change the Equation, advocate encouraging students to dig in deep and explore various angles of game design, game mechanics, and game play. If students, teachers, and parents all come to the video game playing field with an understanding that there're a lot to learn from playing games, the win-win combination can score big points for students in terms of science education and in sparking new interest in science and technology.


Science Buddies in Action

Xavier Downey, a fifth grade student in Hesperia, CA, is an avid gamer. He's into current versions of Pokémon and enjoys going to bat in Mario Super Sluggers. Despite his affinity for his DS and Wii, at eleven, Xavier is also a veteran science fair participant. What stands out about Xavier's science fair history is that his last three science fair projects have all been about video game-related topics. Beyond simply turning "game" into schoolwork, Xavier has taken top honors each year at both his school and district fairs, showing that while the science of gaming can be fun, the projects students pursue in this area can go head-to-head with science projects in other, more traditional, areas of science.

Xavier and his mom are big fans of Science Buddies. After discovering the Science Buddies website at the onset of his third grade project, they've returned each year to search for a hot gaming topic for the science fair and to use Science Buddies resources for guidance, including the Ask an Expert forums. From Xavier's perspective, Science Buddies has given him an edge in terms of developing and completing competitive and successful projects. He's understandably excited about all those first place ribbons, but he's even more enthusiastic about the fact that with each of his projects, he's gotten to explore the science behind something he loves—video games.

"The best part of all is that the projects I chose to do were all video-game-related science projects! I got to play video games and do school work at the same time! I actually wanted to do school work and research all the time for my science projects," says Xavier. "I couldn't have done it without the help of Science Buddies. Learning has never been so much fun!"


A Gamer's Science Fair

Using the Topic Selection Wizard, Xavier turned up his first video game project in 2010. The "Sweating the Score: Can Video Games Be a Form of Exercise?" project let him explore, firsthand, whether or not popular "exercise" games (exergames), a genre advanced by the availability of platforms like the Wii and Kinect, actually qualify as exercise for players. He followed that project with "No Pain, Lots of Game" in 2011, a project that investigates game-playing as an alternative to medications for pain management.

With two gaming projects behind him, with human physiology and neurology components, respectively, Xavier tackled another question related to video games this year in the "Out of Control" project. In this project, Xavier switched his attention to game design and hardware and compared the effectiveness of controllers that mimic their intended functionality (like a steering wheel for a car racing game) to traditional controllers.

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Parents and Teachers: Supporting Video Game Projects

Xavier's mom has been a big supporter of his gaming science projects. Parents don't always immediately see that a student's love of games can be turned into a project that uses the scientific method, but after three years of watching Xavier's projects unfold—and watching him immerse himself in background research this year to better understand the topic—Xavier's mom has no doubt of the value of science projects that use video games as a foundation.

"Before I would never think this area would actually be a science project," Xavier's mom admits. "But now, I think it is very interesting how science and video games can go hand in hand and be useful and such a fun learning experience for kids. I think nowadays gaming and computer technology are important to the future and advancement of the world."

The following Science Buddies resources are designed to help teachers and parents support video game-based science projects and exploration:

As Xavier learned, traditional control schemes use an "abstract" interface in which players use a series of buttons or directional sequences and combinations to achieve on-screen effects. To successfully play the game, these controls have to be learned (and memorized). Diehard gamers may find these controls instinctive, as they often build upon familiar controls from other games, but such controls can be confusing and difficult to master for new gamers. In an attempt to lower the learning curve and reach a wider audience, game development companies have introduced new interfaces that involve "natural mapping." The idea is that if you know how to play tennis on a real court, then clicking a tennis racket-shaped attachment to your remote and swinging it to play a game of tennis can be easier to learn and more inviting to play because the action mimics reality.


Gaming for Everyone

Xavier's background research on video game history gave him a better understanding of the ways in which game controllers have rapidly changed as the gaming industry has grown. "I learned exactly how far video game controllers have changed from the first one-button joysticks to [the] motion sensing remotes of today," says Xavier. With that history in mind, and with an understanding of the differences between natural and abstract mapping schemes, Xavier put his hypothesis that natural mapping control schemes make it easier for a non-gamer to learn a game—and result in higher scores—to the test. Recruiting the help from non-gamers in his family, including his parents, aunts, and uncles, and armed with his knowledge of game control theory, Xavier had his volunteers play a Wii-based racing game that uses a steering wheel.

After analyzing the data he gathered while observing his family members play the game, Xavier found that his testing supported his hypothesis. "This year I learned that a video game controller that mimics a real-life action makes it easier and faster for an inexperienced video game player to learn the video game, rather than trying to remember what button does what using a push-button traditional video game controller," he explains. His experiment encouraged Xavier to step out of the role of player and look at the big picture driving video game design and development. Based on his testing and observations, he has some insight into where gaming may be headed. "Technology continues to improve and advance," says Xavier. "This project showed me [that] motion-based controllers are the future of gaming," he adds, noting that controllers and control schemes have already evolved since the introduction of the first motion sensor remotes.


A Winning Combination

Continuing his string of science fair successes, Xavier's fifth grade project won first place at both his school and district science fairs. He also won a gold medal in the fifth grade division at his county fair, the RIMS Inland Science and Engineering Fair. In addition to the academic success, Xavier's experiment also had another winning outcome. Because of his project, some of his "non-gamer" family members realized that gaming can actually be a lot of fun. "After having so much fun playing [the racing] game, my Mom, my Aunt, and my Grandma all think video games are fun," enthuses Xavier. "And now we have Wii Sports bowling competitions!"

For Xavier, video game science projects give him the chance to really dive into a topic of interest, even as he explores different areas of science, engineering, and human behavior. "The best part of my project was that it gave me an excuse to have to play video games—it's for school! I was having fun, learning, [and] doing a science experiment and school work all at the same time."




Project Ideas in the Video & Computer Games interest area are sponsored by support from the AMD Foundation.
AMD Changing the Game




Tile image: Bigstock

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Success Story: Tracking Wolves


By Kim Mullin

Tracking wild Minnesota wolves for your 6th-grade science project? When you live in Louisiana? As this animal enthusiast discovered, with the availability of online data and a Science Buddies Zoology Project Idea, you don't have to live "near" wolves to study them.

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An exciting project about wolf movement and behavior grabs the attention of an animal-enthusiast preparing for his first science fair. The Project Idea from Science Buddies' zoology area required Dakota (pictured above) to carefully track and plot animal movement data, letting him virtually walk with the wolves.

Animal Movement Study Makes for a 'Wild' First Project

Dakota LeMaire, a sixth grade student in Louisiana, was on the hunt for a science project when he came across Science Buddies' Where the Wild Wolves Wander Project Idea. Since he is a dog- and wolf-lover, Dakota was excited to discover this unique project.

With the information provided in the Project Idea, Dakota's mom ordered a wolf tracking activity booklet and map from the International Wolf Center. Then, Dakota tapped into the online Track Wild Wolves Database to record the historical movement of two wolves that had been fitted with radio collars. The information from the wolves' collars had been recorded over a period of about two years. Dakota's job was to record and analyze the data to discover how far the wolves traveled at various times of the year.

Marking his map with different colors for each wolf in each season required attention and precision, but Dakota loved the process. "I learned that wolves travel very far in the winter," says Dakota. "It was fun to work on this with my parents, and a great opportunity to learn more about something that I already loved!"

Dakota's project was a howling success. After first place wins at both his school and parish fairs, he attended a regional science fair where he garnered third place in Animal Science. Overall, Dakota describes his first science project as "easy, fun, and a wonderful experience."

Read about other student science successes in the Science Buddies in Action area.





Science Buddies' Project Ideas in Zoology are sponsored by the Medtronic Foundation.

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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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Success Story: From Newspaper to Fuel



A student's investigation into biofuel finds support and mentorship in the Science Buddies Ask an Expert forums.


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Assistance from a Bio-Rad Expert helped fuel Naima's interest in environmental science and led to a successful advanced science investigation. To read about other inspiring student and teacher science project successes, visit the Science Buddies in Action page!

Summary

Having utilized Science Buddies resources in previous years, Naima Raza was no stranger to science fairs or to Science Buddies when she consulted Experts in the Ask an Expert forum about her 8th grade environmental science project. With the assistance of an Expert from Bio-Rad Laboratories, Naima turned her interest in biofuels into an award-winning project.


Overview

For Naima, Science Buddies resources, Project Ideas, and Ask an Expert forums have proven both inspirational and invaluable as she has prepared, designed, and executed school science projects over the last several years. Before working on her environmental science project for her 8th grade science fair, Naima had already conducted two science fair projects on environmental science topics, starting with a project in the 6th grade on solar desalination of saltwater. At the time, Naima found the idea that the sun alone could turn salt water into fresh water fascinating. "That the process could also be applied to helping solve a widespread world issue was even more significant," recalls Naima. "I was sincerely interested in making a difference and helping the world become a better place."

That sentiment has continued to guide Naima's research and interest in science. In the 7th grade, she explored the role of substrates in microbial fuel cells. When asked "why" she thinks it is important for students to tackle environmental science questions, her answer is immediate and simple: "Working on environmental science projects is logical!"

"Everybody knows the rapid and dangerous change that the world is going through, and we are already seeing the harmful effects," says Naima. "How can we disregard this issue so easily? The environment affects everything! For example, environmental changes such as climate change are creating and spreading new diseases and making humans even more vulnerable to common diseases. If we can first focus on making our Earth more sustainable, then I'm sure that solving other issues will become easier."


Science Buddies Offers Inspiration and Guidance

Naima's 6th and 7th grade science projects were both inspired by Science Buddies Project Ideas. For each project, she adapted a Science Buddies idea to address her own questions, resulting in a custom experiment each year. When it was time to begin her 8th grade project, Naima returned to Science Buddies and to the Ask an Expert forums where she had received past assistance from volunteer Expert Donna Hardy of Bio-Rad Laboratories. As Naima considered her 8th grade project, she had a number of potential projects in mind and used the Ask an Expert forums to talk over her ideas with Experts, including Donna, a process that helped her better understand the demands and feasibility (in terms of timing, concept, and materials) of each project.

For Naima, finding the right project took time, but getting feedback from Experts helped her continue to refine and redirect her energies and interests. "I hear stories about other students who are naturally curious about a particular subject and do a science fair project about that subject. That sounds incredibly simple, but in reality that never happened to me," admits Naima. "I had to dig in to explore my own passion."

The 'aha' moment did happen, however. After researching cellulosic ethanol, Naima says she immediately thought about newspapers. She asked herself, "can I create ethanol from newspaper waste?" Her background research showed that newspapers had been tested for cellulosic ethanol production, but Naima was interested in what affect pretreatment might have.

Building upon her interest in cellulosic ethanol and assimilating Donna's advice into her project design, Naima narrowed down her focus and began working on her 8th grade project, "The NEWspaper Fuel: Enhancing Cellulosic Ethanol Production." The project explored the process of pretreating newspaper to create ethanol (a biofuel). Her experiment tested two different pretreatment methods, one using ethylene glycol (the organosolv process pretreatment method) and one using hydrogen peroxide (the oxidative delignification pretreatment method), to evaluate the effectiveness of each compared to newspapers that have not been pretreated.


A Mentor's Assistance

According to Naima, one of the biggest challenges in creating the experimental design for her project was the heavy reliance on chemistry, a subject to which, as an 8th grader, she had limited previous exposure. Donna, a long-time volunteer at Ask an Expert, helped Naima work through areas of confusion, served as a guide while Naima shaped her experimental design, and helped Naima procure background and research materials to further shape and inform her research.

"It was a great pleasure to be a mentor for Naima on her 8th grade science fair project," says Donna. "I had also advised her on her 7th grade project, a microbial fuel cell project. For her 8th grade project, which was a study on the feasibility of producing cellulosic ethanol using various pretreatment methods to delignify newspaper, Naima took the time to read and understand the scientific literature on her subject. This required learning advanced chemistry concepts but gave her the background she needed to develop a unique project idea."

"There was a lot of chemistry involved," agrees Naima. "All of the quantities and steps had to be very accurate, and that's where reading scientific papers and discussing [them] with Donna helped drastically. It took me three trials to finalize the experimental procedure, but in the end I learned a lot of neat chemistry!"

With Donna's help at Ask an Expert, Naima developed advanced chemical procedures for treating newspapers, procedures that had not been tested before. "She did an outstanding job of designing an experiment with the resources that she had available using homemade equipment and culture media," says Donna.


From Start to Finish

With her experimental design in place, and the project was underway, Naima continued to exchange information with Donna, checking in at each stage of the project, sharing results, and asking questions. The mentorship that developed on the Ask an Expert forums was inspiring to watch unfold. Spanning a period of approximately six months, the "thread" at Ask an Expert on Naima's project contains more than 175 posts.

From Naima's perspective, completing the project without Donna's assistance would have been much more difficult, in part because to successfully work on her project, she had to find ways to approach testing close to home. "I do not live in a university town, and I did not have the opportunity to work in a laboratory or interact with professors," says Naima.

"Although I was confined to my basement as my lab, Donna was incredible in helping me understand the background concepts behind my project, helping me develop the chemistry-advanced procedure, helping me analyze odd results, suggesting improvements on my scientific report, and overall helping me complete the project within my location and budget constraints."


Resounding Success

After all the testing, it was time to analyze her data and results. For Naima, this was not only a challenging aspect of the project but one of the most rewarding. "Offering a glimpse into the scientist she is becoming, Naima recalls, fondly, "the point where I lean back on my chair and look at the final graphs on my computer screen. I have interpreted and analyzed the data, and it all makes sense now. At this point, I have obtained meaningful conclusions which I can relate to potential applications. The conclusions link right back my goal—I have attempted to aid our planet in my own way!"

In the end, Naima's diligent research and hard work was recognized. At her regional fair, Naima won seven awards, including the "Best in Division - Junior" award. She moved on to the Canada Wide Science Fair, where she won a Gold Medal, in addition to a University of Western Ontario Entrance Scholarship, "Energy Challenge - Junior" Award, and the "Renewable Energy - Junior" Award.


A Scientific Journey Unfolds

From its early roots in the desalination project, Naima's interest in environmental science has continued to deepen and evolve. This year, Naima is continuing her work, extending her research into biofuels and adding to the mix of scientific fields one of her favorites, microbiology. While she doesn't plan on working directly in the field of environmental science, she hopes to continue to explore her interest in environmental science through biology. Naima's got the big picture in mind: "I want my research to affect others positively, and contribute towards saving our planet."


 




The Science Buddies Ask an Expert forums are staffed by volunteer Experts like Donna Hardy from Bio-Rad. Individuals interested in volunteering with Science Buddies can find out more on our volunteer pages. Bio-Rad sponsors the Biotechnology Techniques Interest Area at Science Buddies.

 


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By Kim Mullin


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Devon won a blue ribbon with her 7th grade science investigation of the relationship between CO2 output and exercise. To read about other inspiring student and teacher science project successes, visit the Science Buddies in Action page!

Science Buddies in Action

Science Buddies' Topic Selection Wizard zeroes in on the perfect project for a student curious about the pulmonary illness affecting her family. While completing her project, this student gained hands-on experience in life sciences and a better understanding of how exercise can keep lungs healthy.


Student's Family Health History Sparks Scientific Exploration

Devon Lejman had an interest in health and life sciences and, thanks to an older brother, knew exactly where to turn when she needed a 7th grade science fair project—Science Buddies!

After feeding her interests to the Topic Selection Wizard, she was excited to see the Effects of Exercise: Changes in Carbon Dioxide Output health and human biology Project Idea among the Wizard's recommendations. This topic interested Devon because her family has been affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. As the respiratory system becomes increasingly damaged, people with this disease find it harder and harder to breathe. As Devon explains, "when a person's lungs cannot effectively remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the body, the CO2 becomes a large buildup, almost like a blockage."

The Effects of Exercise project gave Devon a way to visualize a person's CO2 output. Using a simple, homemade respirometer, Devon was able to evaluate the amount of CO2 in a person's exhalations by seeing how long it took an indicator to change colors (in response to the presence of CO2). After running the experiment on herself, Devon decided to try the experiment on other people as well. "I wanted a wide variety of test subjects, all with different ages, backgrounds, and amounts of weekly exercise," she notes. Devon successfully garnered several participants, ranging from a triathlete to a 60-year-old with a pacemaker!

Once Devon's subjects completed their tests, she enjoyed comparing their outcomes. "It was interesting to see how different the results were, and how age, average activity, and background affected how long it took for measurable amounts of CO2 to be output." She was also glad to see that her hypothesis was correct: she learned that both exercise and being fit increase the efficiency of CO2 output.

With a helpful recommendation from the Topic Selection Wizard, Devon found an exciting science project that gave her insight into her family's health history and the importance of exercise. On top of that, she won her science fair's Health & Medicine award and the overall award for the 7th grade. For Devon, learning more about human biology and exercise physiology through her science project was a win-win!



(For another first-person student account of this project, see "Carbon Dioxide Output You Can See." Science Buddies Human Biology & Health Project Ideas are sponsored by the Medtronic Foundation.)


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Mikaela May, student at Crowley High School, Crowley Texas, with her award winning project.


Mikaela May's world is one of full of flowers... real flowers at the floral shop where she works. As an agriscience student and dedicated Future Farmers of America (FFA) member, Mikaela, now a high school senior, turned a common customer question into a successful multi-year science investigation—and came up smelling like roses.


Asking Questions

People who buy roses often want to know what steps they can take to make them last longer. Many florists provide a packet that can be added to the water in a vase to help flowers stay fresh. Do those packets really work? What about baby aspirin? What about copper pennies? (Or are those for snails?)

There are many "common wisdom" strategies out there that promise to be "the" key to helping your blooms last longer than if you just brought them home, put them in a vase of water, and left them alone. What Mikaela wanted to know was whether or not commercially available "preservation" packets work—and, if so, why.


"Sweet" Flowers?

Mikaela's initial study focused specifically on the use of sugars in preservation solutions. As she worked on designing the various phases of her inquiry and then performing her trials, Mikaela used the Science Buddies Project Guide to help keep her on track. She won numerous awards and honors for Phase I and Phase II of her project, and she isn't finished yet. Phase III of her study is underway!

To find out more about Mikaela's project and her "blooming" success at a number of fairs, check out her Science Buddies in Action success story.

Do you have a success story to share with us? We love hearing how you've used Science Buddies as you've worked on or selected your own science projects and explorations. If you've got a story that you think will inspire other students, parents, or teachers, let us know!

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McCray, a 2nd grader at Piney Grove Elementary in North Carolina, won 2nd place with his "which fertilizer works best" science project!
Science Buddies knows that students are often most successful doing science projects that tie in with an interest or hobby. Students can browse our library of 1000+ project ideas by area of science (e.g., Biotechnology, Electricity & Electronics, or Energy & Power) or they can use the Topic Selection Wizard. By answering a set of questions, they give the Topic Selection Wizard information that can help suggest project ideas they might enjoy.


Doing a project that ties in with something you love (or something you wonder about or are curious about) can be a win-win. That's why I got excited when I heard McCray McGee's story. As a 2nd grader, McCray did an award-winning science project putting something he heard about Squanto to the test. He wondered: was Squanto right that fish make the best fertilizer for corn?

The project that grew out of his curiosity made use of the family farm, involved cats trying to get to the buried fish, required home-made compost, utilized a pet pig, and ended with some family taste-testing of McCray's fresh-from-the-farm corn to go along with the data analysis he performed after monitoring the crops for 13 weeks. During the project, McCray's mom visited Ask an Expert to get suggestions about how to help guide McCray's project so that it was manageable for his age and grade.

It's a great story! Check it out to see how McCray and his family bridged the gap between American History and Science.


At-Home Plant Science
Interested in plant biology or agriculture? You can conduct a science experiment similar to McCray's even if you don't have a farm!

  • With a group of small pots, you can test the effect of nitrogen-based fertilizers in the Growing, Growing, Gone! project.
  • Using the Growing, Growing, Gone! project as a model, you can create your own project to test other variables or other types of fertilizer. Our Measuring Plant Growth guide offers suggestions and tips for monitoring your plants.

To read other inspiring stories about students, teachers, and families who have used Science Buddies resources, visit our Science Buddies in Action page.

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(Research and development of Science Buddies Project Ideas in the area of plant biology are supported by the Monsanto Fund.)


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