Exploring the wonders of the universe at schools’ science fairs

April 3, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

Exploding soda, solar systems and floating eggs add to experience

Aiden Sparks (right) looks over his battery-powered fan and light project at the Endeavour Elementary School science fair with friend Aiden Hong. By Tom Corrigan

Which type of popcorn maker pops the tastiest corn the fastest?

What happens when various items are placed into a microwave?

Will an egg float in salt water or fresh water?

And, of course, the ever-popular inquiry about the result of placing Mentos candy into soda pop.

These were just a few of the questions tested in various science fairs that have been held at schools in the Issaquah School District in recent weeks.

March seems to be the local science fair season at the elementary school level. Over half of the students in her school participated in her school’s event, Endeavour Principal Kathy Connally said.

The Endeavour entry of Aiden Sparks, 7, seemed to grab a lot of attention. With his dad’s help, Aiden rigged up a small, battery-powered, two-speed fan and light system. Mom Amy Sparks said the gizmo doubled as a special type of alarm system in her son’s bedroom.

“It was fun, but it was work, too,” Aiden said of the project.

Fourth-grader George Calvert’s “Soda Spew” experiment was one of several dealing with how soda would explode if combined with Mentos candy. For the science fairs, students supplied pictures of the exploding sodas, but didn’t set off any actual gushers at schools. George postulated Diet Coke would shoot the highest because it had the most caffeine.

Diet Coke did indeed reach the highest heights, according to George’s presentation. But while he chose the right soda, he picked it for the wrong reason. It’s the soda’s carbon dioxide content that determines the height of the fizzy geyser, not the caffeine, according to George.

By the way, Diet Coke won every soda shooting contest spotted at Endeavour and other schools. One enterprising student used the soda/Mentos combination as a way to launch small rockets from the top of soda bottles. For his part, George said he wasn’t sure where he got the idea for his “Soda Spew” display. He said he’d heard of the exploding soda trick and just wanted to try it for himself.

At the Discovery Elementary School science fair March 21, another soda-based inquiry wanted to know which type of pop would make a gummy bear expand the most. In this case the winner was Pepsi, according to the display of student Roshni Patel.

An egg will float in salt water, by the way, but not so much in fresh water, according to the study of Vishal Ramisetty, 10. The egg floats in the salt water because of the water’s density, Vishal said. Mom Neelu Ramisetty said the project was worthwhile simply for exposing her son to new concepts, such as density.

“It made him think,” she added.

Of the presentations at Discovery, Noah Searles, 9, probably had the largest. Using cutouts and models, Noah’s exhibit demonstrated the relative size of celestial objects, such as our sun and its planets. Using Noah’s scale, the sun measured 9 feet tall.

At both Discovery and Endeavour, there were no grand-prize winners, no experiments held up above the others. Each participant received a certificate or ribbon for being involved. At Discovery, teachers and administrators wandered the displays in lab coats asking students to explain their work. Teachers said it’s the effort that counts.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s an experiment that’s been done 100 times,” fourth-grade teacher Allison Lehr said.

She said all of the projects exposed students to the basics of the scientific method: asking a question, formulating a hypothesis or possible answer, testing that idea and reaching a conclusion.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or www.tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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