Bright Futures

June 4, 2010

Rheanna Sand

We scientists tend to get our information from books, scientific journals, or by masochistically undertaking years of research to answer our own burning questions. But do we ever think to ask the kids?

I had the extreme pleasure of representing Science in Seconds at a local science fair this week, held at a K-12 school called Progressive Academy. This was their first ever science fair, and the buzz was palpable. In the end, winners were chosen from each age group, but truly, each student wanted to learn something, teach something, and show off their science knowledge…and they DID.

So here, I present to you, some things a 5th year PhD molecular neuropharmacology student learned from a bunch of smart kids:

1. Levitation is possible - this demo showed that a lightweight object with current running through it, but separated into positive and negative poles, can levitate. The magnetic field created by the current pulls the object in opposing directions, and the forces balance out in mid-air. In this case, the car battery didn't have enough voltage to make the tin-foil triangle levitate, but the proof of this principle can be seen here. The significance of this demo? Flying cars and hoverboards. It's about time! (Shout out: Leah)

2. Video games improve visual acuity and reflexes - okay, I already knew that video games were awesome, and that FPS games in 3D environments improve spatial memory, but I didn't know that I, personally, had benefited from the many hours of Playstation I've racked up. Scoring 5 out of 5 on this quick visual test made me feel much better about my gamer habits. (Shout out: Colton)

3. A beeper can run on soil - this demo was alongside a typical lemon-powered clock, and had two potted plants with zinc and copper electrodes stuck in the dirt with wires running between them. Within that circuit was, of all things, a pager, beeping happily as if it hadn't been used in a few decades. A small amount of current, yes, but produced by plants! And dirt! Who knew? (Shout out: Victoria)

4. Butter makes the chewiest chocolate chip cookie - this well planned out and controlled experiment tested the idea that using different kinds of fat will result in different levels of chewiness. Indeed, that was the case, as margarine and shortening both produced thicker, less chewy cookies than pure butter. Results aside, what could be smarter than combining science and cookies? (Shout out: Madison)

5. Bugs have personality - I admit, this conclusion is totally my own, and comes from an experiment from a Grade 1 student who wanted to know which of four bugs were the fastest: ladybugs, a black clock beetle, a sowbug, or a centipede. But when pit against each other in a side-by-side race, speed wasn't the most important factor, it was personality. The centipede had no fear and ran every time. The beetle, on the other hand, would freeze up. The lesson? Bugs are more complicated that we like to think. (Shout out: Leman)

Thanks again to all the students at Progressive Academy who have shown me there is still so much to learn…especially when you get your head out of the books and into your local science community.


Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand



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