Science fair students uncover answers for the real world
The 11th annual Martha Vineyard Regional High School Science Fair last Saturday showcased a world of knowledge and promise, including the fact that the next generation is preparing to take good care of this old planet of ours.
For starters, more than 150 teenagers were awake, cheery, and where they were supposed to be at nine o'clock on Saturday morning, not always a good time for teenagers.
Also, despite some scary names like "The Effects of Circular Motion on Centripital Force" and "Decomposition in Relation to Permineralization," all of the projects had real-life applications designed by very typical and inquisitive teenagers.
Each project also represented a commitment of several months to the rigorous standards and details of 14 criteria by which their work was judged.
Contestants were encouraged to choose projects based on their own questions about the way things work and most did that. Categories included biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science and wind turbines (a required senior project) as well as various team projects within those categories.
Sophomore Eva Faber won the overall grand prize for her project titled, "The Effects of Smoke on Seed Germination on Martha's Vineyard Sandplains Grassland." Her project also won first prize in the biology category and a third award in the special topics category.
"I was very surprised," Ms. Faber said. "I love science and biology, but I didn't think I would win anything."
Ms. Faber said she wanted to do a project that was unique to the Vineyard. "I found the fire smoke has a positive effect on the seeds and that a lot of our species are well-adapted to the burn process," she said.
Ms. Faber's ecological theme played out in dozens of the 125 projects displayed in the high school cafeteria and library that measured the effect of toxicity and pollution on nature and on us with products we use and eat. More than 90 percent of the award-winning projects dealt with some aspect of our environment.
Mark Hahn, one of 32 judges, has noticed the growing concern of students about ecology and healthy habits over the past decade. Mr. Hahn, a Vineyard Haven resident, is a biologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He has judged 11 of the high school science fairs.
"It's interesting to see how kids think about scientific questions," Mr. Hahn said. "Two things stand out to me. First, a lot of the projects are inspired by real life problems like climate change.
"Second, not all these kids are going to be scientists, but they will have better understanding of how things work, how things should be judged. They will be better prepared to manage the world after us."
Several hundred parents, friends and science junkies prowled the labyrinth of projects. Large crowds were attracted to several projects because of dramatic visual presentation and subject matter. Freshmen Charlie Pikor and Connor Chisholm offered a hands-on project demonstration in "Are You Eating Nails for Breakfast?" a project that measured and illustrated the level of iron in common breakfast cereal brands.
Mr. Pikor mixed off-the-shelf breakfast cereal with water in a zippered clear plastic bag, then applied a magnet to the bag, drawing small bits of visible iron filings to the top of the bag. "When they say 'iron' on the box, they mean real iron filings. If you eat nine servings of this size, you'll have eaten the equivalent of one nail," he said, gesturing to a cup of iron nails on the table.
"You can do this at home," Mr. Pikor advised an open-mouthed spectator who was drawing the magnet across the bag. Total produced the most iron filings, Cheerios the least. Reese's cup and Cookie Crisp were in the mid-range, his experiment showed. "I don't know what the effect of eating a nail is on us and while it certainly changed my opinion, I'm still going to eat cereal," he said with a grin.
Across the aisle, freshmen Jahmari Thomas and Josh Markievitz had crowds three deep around their analysis of the presence of mercury in sushi, a project that was complete with a power presentation featuring discussion points and color-coded vertical bar charts.
The students analyzed two orders of tuna, freshwater eels and salmon sushi for the presence of mercury in each species, then compared the findings with recommended levels per serving established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"Basically this was a study of a food chain with tuna at the top and eels at the bottom," Jahmari said. "We were shocked at our findings. We expected tuna to have the most mercury [it did], but we thought eels would be lowest." However, eels had more mercury than salmon in their test, he said.
"After we established the levels, we compared them with EPA recommended levels," Josh said. "We found that one piece, not a whole serving, just one piece of tuna, contained nearly three times more mercury than the EPA recommends daily for a 160-pound adult."
Projects ranged from arcane-sounding names like Elizabeth Francis's "The Effects of Circular Motion on Centripital Force" to Jeremiah Roberts's straightforward "Egg Flotation," but all shared a common goal of increasing our understanding of the world around us.
Ms. Francis's project explained why water stays in a bucket even if we swing it vertically. She got the idea watching someone swinging a bucket. A science lover who hopes to attend MIT, she explained that the weight of the water combined with the speed of vertical and horizontal swing angles counterbalances the effect of gravity. Ergo, no water spills.
Mr. Roberts wanted to know whether we really do swim more easily in salt water than in fresh water, and why. The floating egg experiment taught him not just that the hypothesis is true but he also learned also the importance of experimenting and measuring results. "I enjoyed it, and I'll definitely do the science fair again," he said.
Science Fair winners
1. Eva Faber, The Effect of Smoke on Seed Germination on Martha's Vineyard Sandplains Grassland; 2. Truda Silberstein, What Shampoo and pH Level Are Best for Getting Oil Off Hair; 3. Riley Donegan, Electrified Carbon Capture.
1. Eva Faber, The Effect of Smoke on Seed Germination on Martha's Vineyard Sandplains Grassland; 2. Jackson Koorse, Water Levels in Fruit and How Time Affects It; 3. Allison McAndrews, CSI: Blood Spatter Analysis.
1. Truda Silberstein, What Shampoo and pH Level Are Best for Getting Oil Off Hair; 2. Riley Donegan, Electrified Carbon Capture; 3. Conor Smith, Power Punditry.
1. Oliver Filley, How Kite Shapes Affect Flight; 2. Elizabeth Francis, The Effects of Circular Motion on Centripital Force; 3. Eli Dagostino, Glass Notes.
Earth / Environmental Science
1. Charlotte Lowell-Bettencourt, Tidal Energy: The Wave of the Future; 2. Katherine Donegan, How Vegetation Density Affects Dune Erosion; 3. Emma HallBilsback, West Tisbury Ponds: How Safe Are They to Swim In?
1. Josh Markievitz and Jahmari Thomas, Mercury Levels in Sushi! 2. Clare Boland and David Cinxia, The Effect of Pain Relievers on the Life of Cut Flowers; 3. Olivia Cimeno and Maggie Johnson, The Flex of a Hockey Stick and Shot Accuracy.
Wind Turbine Engineering
1.Devin Balboni and Teanna Montoya 2. Michaella Gaines and Jill McHugh 3. (Tie) James Flynn and Doug Fraser, Shikha Datta and Elizabeth Jacobs
Special Topic Awards
Cape Light Compact Awards: Riley Donegan: "Electrified Carbon Capture"; Justin Oslyn and Liam Gude: "Energy In Foods"
The David Brand Award: Josh Markievitz and Jahmari Thomas: "Mercury In Sushi"
Friends of Sengekontacket Award: Katherine Donegan: "How Vegetation Density Affects Dune Erosion"
Island Grown Initiative Awards: Megan Mendenhall and Katelyn Fritz: "The Effect of Soil On the Growth of Basil Plants"; Eva Faber: "The Effect of Smoke on Seed Germination on Martha's Vineyard Sandplains Grassland"
The Lloyd Henki Award: Julia Cooper: "Cloud Types and Their Relation to Weather on Martha's Vineyard"
Marine & Paleobiological Research Institute Award: Taylor McNeely: "Decomposition in Relation to Permineralization"
Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters Association Award: Eva Faber: "The Effect of Smoke on Seed Germination on Martha's Vineyard Sandplains Grassland"
The Science of Art Award: Hannah Moore and Jenna Springer: "The Iron Content in Clay and Its Effects on Underglaze"
The Waterway Awards: 1st - Josh Markievitz and Jahmari Thomas: "Mercury In Sushi": 2nd - Warren Gowell: "Studying the Effects of Ground Pollution on Ants"; 3rd - Emma HallBilsback: "West Tisbury Ponds: How Safe Are They to Swim In?; 4th - Luc Woodard and Kassidy Bettencourt: "The Effect of Glacial Melting On Ocean Salinity"