Young Einsteins get to work

Middle school students delve into science for annual fair

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As deadlines loomed for the annual rite of science, Larry Haines saw a rush of parents and students visiting Pilot Office Supply.

Haines, the retail floor supervisor for the Steamboat Springs store, and other store employees knew the monthlong demand for posterboard meant only one thing: science fairs.

The work of Steamboat's youngest scientists will be on display several times over the next week. The open house started things Wednesday night at Steamboat Springs Middle School, where students, parents and volunteer judges perused more than 300 projects spread across the school's gymnasium.

The science fair puts on display the fruits of eight weeks of labor on the part of the school's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Projects range from standbys, such as which laundry detergent best removes stains, to more unique experiments, such as Jackson Wren's successful creation of plastic from milk and acidic liquids.

"Every year, they come up with more creative, more scientific concepts than the year before," seventh-grade science teacher Lisa Lorenz said.

For eighth-grader Laura Holthausen, this year's science fair was an opportunity to leave a lasting impression.

Holthausen constructed a Jacob's ladder, a specially designed arrangement of electrodes that produces an arc -- a continuous discharge of electricity -- when high voltage is applied to the electrodes. Commonly used in old science-fiction movies, a Jacob's ladder produces glowing arcs that move up the V-shaped electrodes.

"I had to do something cool for my last year," Holthausen said.

Amber Sachs put the long-held belief that dogs have cleaner mouths than humans to the test. Using cotton swabs and petri dishes, Sachs compared the bacterial growth of specimens taken from the mouths of a dog and a person.

What she found -- besides the horrendous smell the growing bacteria emitted -- was that humans actually have cleaner mouths.

Student Kaeli Nolte would disagree. Nolte's science project was dedicated to the same question, and it produced an opposite result.

But it's the process that counts the most, not the end result, science teachers Brad Kindred and Lorenz said of the science fair projects.

"Our hope and our goal is for them to have the tools and the skills to pursue learning when they find something that interests them," Lorenz said.

Those tools and skills include learning the scientific method, how to use various resources and how to execute a plan.

Middle school students handed in more than 500 projects this year, Lorenz said. Putting projects on display wasn't mandatory.

Soda Creek Elementary School's science fair open house is from 6 to 7 p.m. tonight at the school. Strawberry Park Elementary School's science fair open house is from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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