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Chemistry set, 1960s

Projects at the SLA science fair went outside the (chemistry) box. Merit brand chemistry set, 1962, CHF Collections. 

Walking around as a “guest scientist” at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) 9th-grade science fair last month, I felt more like a collaborator at an American Chemical Society meeting than a judge. Far from cookie-cutter “sunlight and plants” projects, students presented real research, motivated by curiosity, with results ready to jump off their posters.

My (younger) fellow scientists stood eagerly by their displays, ready to draw me in at the slightest sign of interest. Among the more original topics I saw were flammability and sound resistance, and even those who chose more conventional science fair fare—soil constituents for plant growth, for example—did not just repeat experiments they had read about. One student, for example, compared different brands of store-bought soil with a soil mixture he engineered himself—and which, to his surprise, beat out the competition.

Students were encouraged to choose topics that would affect them personally; one super-personal project focused on the safety of deodorant. The student carefully studied the effects of small exposures of different types of deodorant sprays and normal soap on plants, concluding that one particular brand was less harmful than others. Another student researched the chemiluminescence behind glowsticks. Hearing her discuss the temperature and time effects she discovered, I observed the confidence and poise of an expert.

The students at SLA were excited to hear my opinion of their projects, eager to answer questions, and elated to find out that there is current research, like adverse effects from cosmetic products and break-through studies in bioluminescence, based on the very same kind of questions that they were asking. Topics of personal importance, it seems, remain personal far after high school; I expect many of these students will continue scientific investigation after high school and beyond.

Christy Martin is an editorial intern at CHF.

Related:
Science Fairs vs. Science Festivals [Periodic Tabloid]
Making Up [Distillations]

Posted In: Education

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