Scientific thinking

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

They didn't get any grants or receive federal funding for their study, but 29 students at St. Vincent de Paul did get extra credit for completing a science fair project.

Some of their work examined how gray water affects plant growth, which antiseptics are the best at killing bacteria and which sausage brands have the least fat per serving.

All the projects will be on display at the Regional Science Fair competition today at the Show Me Center. The displays are open to the public at 3:30 p.m. today. Judging awards will be announced at 7:30 p.m.

Each year, teacher Marilyn Peters encourages her students to compete in the science fair. "We try to zero in on what's happening and what this has to do with the real world," she said.

The students try to use current news for their projects or elaborate on topics they've read about in magazines or heard on the news.

Katie Blattel, a seventh-grader, examined four different brands of sausage to determine which one had the least amount of water and fat per serving.

After weighing the uncooked sausage, cooking it for 12 minutes in the laboratory and then weighing the sausages again, as well as the grease from cooking them, Blattel found that the higher-priced brands had the least fat.

Her research follows national reports that products with higher fat contents are often cheaper and more accessible to people with lower incomes.

Courtney Fels, another seventh grader, tried to figure out what water source was best for growing plants. She discovered the idea after reading a magazine article that encouraged farmers to use gray water from their homes to water crops during droughts, Peters said.

Fels said her project took a while to get started because she had to grow the bean and pea plants. All the plants were grown in the school science lab.

She tested four sources of water for the project, from distilled to soft and two kinds of rinse water, one with bleach only and the other with bleach and detergent.

She then determined which water source was best for plant growth by calculating the mass for each plant and then taking its height measurement.

"They pretty much all grew the same but I was surprised that they would grow with the bleach and detergent," she said.

Soft water, found in most homes, turned out to be the best for the plants, Fels discovered.

David Westrich's current science fair project is an expansion of last year's work. He studied lead intake in lettuce last year and then developed a hypothesis for lead absorption in earthworms and wood lice.

The analysis was easier this year, "but the collection of the specimens was probably harder," he said.

Nearly 300 students have projects entered in the fair, and schools from Cape Girardeau to the Missouri Bootheel are represented. The Regional Science Fair winners advance to the International Science and Engineering Fair held later this year.

The science fair is sponsored by Southeast Missouri State University and the Southeast Missourian.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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