From time to time I mention how cool it is to work in an athletic facility that houses an arena. Besides sporting events a lot goes on around here. You got concerts, plays, circuses, comedy acts, religious events, and more. All these events transform Dahlberg Arena into something other than the basketball court that so many of us are used to seeing. Each year a more low-key and innocent event also sets up shop in our 7,000 seat facility.
Stimulating the minds of the youth while lighting an academic fire inside of them I always look forward to when the Montana State Science Fair comes to Missoula. The best science projects completed by middle school and high school students are displayed on the arena floor as well as on the second level balcony. All conceivable space is completely occupied. Out of what seems like thousands of projects judges pick their top four. The proud creators of those projects get an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to showcase their work at a national fair.
This morning I had the chance to quickly walk through the fair. While I have absolutely no idea what projects received the best in show recognition from the judges I definitely know which ones I liked best. Of course they dealt with things like soda and gum and other items that most people would not immediately associate with science but what do you expect from someone like me? Without further delay I would like to put the spotlight on my favorite projects at the 2014 Montana State Science Fair.
What Mint Makes Your Mouth Hurt the Most?
The student who conducted this project wanted to know what mint would make the mouth feel the coldest after sucking on it and taking a sip of water. This ambitious student had subjects suck various brands of mints for 15 seconds, drink water, and then rate it on a “coldness scale” from 1-5. The mint that will freeze the mouth the most? Peppermint sugar free mints (no brands given)! As I do experience the stinging cold sensation of drinking water after partaking in a stick of gum or mint I found this report helpful…I am definitely sticking to spearmint!
Most Corrosive Soda
This neat experiment tested what soda would eat something up the quickest. The student experimented with Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew, and A&W Root Beer. Using nails and cut up pieces of hot dogs the student placed these items in the five different soft drinks and observed for fifteen days. This middle schooler correctly predicted that Mountain Dew would eat up the nail first before the other sodas but didn’t find the same result with the hot dog. Much to the student’s dismay, Pepsi broke down and dissolved the hot dog before the other pops. Sure am glad I don’t drink soda!
Video Game Mania
This self-proclaimed gamer wanted to see if what you sit in while playing video games will impact overall score/performance. Rotating his subjects so that they would all sit in a gaming chair (what does that even look like), a wooden chair, and on the floor while playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl he recorded the scores from the various different seating positions. After the games were played and the data crunched this student concluded that sitting in a gaming chair (whatever that is) will improve video game performance. Cool result in all but I question it…back in the day when my little brother and I would face off in our sports video game battles he would sit on the floor and I would sit in a computer chair and he still managed to always kick my butt.
How Much Sugar in Drinks
The visual aid of this project won me over. The student showed the amount of sugar in each bottle of soda/Gatorade/milk in a very literal sense. By using the nutritional label on the product he/she measured out the grams of sugar indicated and poured it into the empty bottles. Pop drinkers would probably look away at this exhibit because the Coke, Dr. Pepper, and Mt. Dew bottles had a sickening amount of sugar inside them. Even Gatorade had an alarming amount. The student then went on to make the very bold recommendation that if faced with choosing milk or soda that one should probably opt for the milk.
This final student wanted to test how long it took different brands of chewed and unchewed gum to biodegrade in soil. Using Wrigley’s Winterfresh, Trident Layers, Dentyne Ice, and Hubba Bubba gum he/she planted chewed and unchewed pieces in wet soil. After two weeks the student checked back and found that the Hubba Bubba unchewed gum biodegraded the most over the time period. I found this experiment a little contradictory to my own experiences as a youngster. While in grade school I would chew a piece of gum every morning at the bus stop. When the bus would come I would spit it out at the exact same tree. That spot on the tree trunk was littered with hundreds of pieces of chewed gum, none of which I remember biodegrading in any degree.
Let me give the middle school and high school students of Montana a big A+. Thank you for engaging in cool (yet sometimes obvious) studies and thank you for having the guts to showcase them on a statewide stage. Best of luck to the students advancing to nationals! Don’t Blink