John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Science fairs, part II

My post yesterday inspired some comments! Not here, but elsewhere in my social-mediasphere. Over on the Facebook, college pal Kirsten observed:

To go along with your comment about using the same unit measurements, I'd prefer that the sugar containers be the same size too. It would make a different impression to see a mostly empty large bag for the milk & fruit juice vs the full large bag for the Big Gulp.

Good point! That would make for a more elegant display. On the other hand, that would just be more data without context. Oh, so 3 teaspoons of sugar takes up less space in a bag than 32 teaspoons? The devil, you say.

And westwingwolf Tweeted:

whatever happen to science fair projects with actual experiments like which soap detergent or battery is best for value?

Also a good point! There's really no science on display here at all, unless you count converting grams into teaspoons. (Which perhaps suggests it's not a science fair project at all, the possibility of which I allowed yesterday.) But I can imagine this display being part of a simple experimental science fair project demonstrating the effect of sugar on teeth. You could buy some human teeth and submerge them in solutions of water and various amounts of sugar. (You'd want to use a solution rather than the liquids itself, to isolate the effect of the sugar from that of the other compounds present in, say, Coke. And of course you'd need one tooth soaking in plain water as a control.) On one poster, you'd describe the experiment, show pictures of the experiment in progress, and display the actual teeth. Then you could have the picture from yesterday as an auxiliary, to demonstrate that the effect of sugar on teeth is not just an abstract concept, but something people need to think about.

All of this naturally raises the question, OK, smart guy, if you're such an expert, what was your science fair project? Well, it was on archaeology, if you can believe that. I had some first-hand archaeological experience, thanks to a few weeks at an archaeology summer camps in Kampsville, Illinois, sponsored by the Center for American Archaeology. And I rather imagine I took a certain pleasure in choosing a science outside the junior high science fair mainstream. As I recall, I talked about how the scientific method was applied in the field, discussed the kind of artifacts I'd unearthed and what they signified, and used my experience and knowledge to analyze some arrowheads I'd received as a gift from my Aunt Garnet. I thought it was pretty good, and I was proud of having thought outside the box. I didn't win the science fair, but I think it was reasonably well received by the judges. Of course, I'm talking about something I did more than 30 years ago, so I'm fuzzy on the precise details.

If I had to do a science project now … well, the other day I was waiting for the bus and observing how the melting show had carved a channel at the base of the pile of snow and ice at the corner. I've always been fascinated by the little overhangs that are created by that process. Maybe I could investigate that in some way. Does the presence of sand or ash in the show pile speed up the erosion? Does the circulation of air in the space beneath the overhang speed up or slow down the melting? Something along those lines.

Of course, not having access to a walk-in freezer might hamper my experimentation. Maybe I should just do the teeth thing.

Tags: halcyon days of yore, science, social media: facebook, social media: twitter

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