# Science Fair suggestions?

#### Darren Davis

##### Stunt Coordinator
jeesh, just what I need: more work from school. Now I have to do a science fair project, which is due in mid-December. I need to come up with an idea and write out my procedure in detail by next Monday to turn in. I've been brainstorming ideas and due to the limitations of rules, cost, paperwork, willpower, etc. the best I've come up with is testing pH levels in different cities around me. As far as project restrictions go I can't use humans because there are too many variables or animals because of the massive amount of paperwork. They want us to come up with a project that's never been done before. Anyone out there have any suggestions?
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#### BrianW

Senior HTF Member
Get a bunch of identical spherical objects, like marbles or ball bearings - enough to fill a paint can. Then get two more marbles/ball bearings - one that is larger than the rest, and one that is smaller than the rest, but both made of the same material as the set of identical marbles.
Get (or make) a bunch of containers of different shapes: Conical, cylindrical, square, rectangular, etc.
Fill one container with the identical marbles and place the larger marble in the geometric middle of the mass of marbles in the container.
Vibrate the container violently enough to shake the marbles for some standard amount of time - about a minute. This is the hard part, because it should be standardized, if possible, through some mechanical process that doesn't involve you shaking the container by hand as if it were Jiffy-Pop.
Note where the larger marble ends up - top, middle, or bottom of the container.
Repeat for the other containers, and for the smaller marble in place of the larger marble.
Come up with a set of hypotheses to explain what you observed. (It might help if you also read a book on crystal lattice structures.) Your hypotheses don't have to be all-encompassing or explain the deep mysteries of Brownian motion. A simple statement like "The larger mass will always rise to the top for containers narrower at the bottom than at the top" would be just fine as a hypothesis. (Note: This is just an example and may not represent what you can actually expect to have happen.)
Propose a set of experiments that would test your theory and then conduct the experiments you proposed and note the success or failure of your set of hypotheses.
This is pretty simple, but the application of the Scientific Method is sure to impress any worthy Science Fair judge. Building a kit or recreating a historical experiment whose outcome is already known doesn't even rate. But conducting an experiment whose outcome is not known in advance, and learning all you can from it by developing and testing a hypothesis is what science is all about.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that it's the application of a process, not the demonstration of knowledge that (hopefully) scores big points.
The most important thing, though, is to have fun.

#### Bill Catherall

##### Screenwriter
Brian hit on the key point of any science fair project. "The application of the scientific method." When I was in Jr. High I got second place at 2 different science fairs and I didn't have the coolest or most difficult project. I did something most of the other kids didn't think of while they were growing mold (or whatever their "project" was). I showed how to properly apply the scientific method. You ask a question: What would happen if...? You hypothesise a solution: I think this will happen. You perform experiments to see if your hypothesis is correct. You gather the data from the experiments and either you were right or you were wrong. Then you write up a report summarizing your findings. (The report is the key.)
One experiment involved the wing size of paper airplanes and its effect on how far the airplane glides. Pretty simple, but I blew all the other students (well except the one that got 1st place) out of the water.
Say it with me...scientific method.
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Bill

[Edited last by Bill Catherall on October 31, 2001 at 11:53 PM]

#### Kenneth

##### Supporting Actor
I agree with the others that something that utilizes the scientific method is best received. Also, things that are topical (environment, energy, etc) tend to draw more awards as do things that emphasize a particular scientific principle in a new way. Here are some of the science fair experiments I remember from when I participated (20 years ago) to spark your thinking:
Hydrogen Fuel (that was mine
): I originally started with a baking soda can with a pressure gauge at one end and a spark plug at the other. I would then put a fuel inside, seal it, and spark it with a Tessla coil. I created my hydrogen by dropping Zinc in HCl (hydrocloric acid) and the gaseous H2 would bubble off. I tested various grades of gasoline, hydrogen, and Natural gas. Ironically, natural gas was so powerful it opened my can at the seams
I later persuaded a machine shop to build me a steel container for my continued experiments. I received some small local scholarships and a tour of the local DOE facility.
Multiple Dimensions (my brother's experiment): He went through dimensional theory and built a tesseract.
Other projects that I remember involved growing molds, studing petroleum eating bacteria (to clean up oil spills), and other items.
Good topical items today would definitely be alternate energy topics (more efficient wind or solar might be popular), environmental projects (new ways to clean up or dispose of waste or purify water and air), ways to sterilize things from bacteria, etc. Pick something that you would enjoy because when you speak to your project the judges can usually tell if you are just doing an assignment, vs something you really like. Good luck.
Kenneth

#### BrianW

Senior HTF Member
quote: I agree with the others that something that utilizes the scientific method is best received.[/quote]If only that were always the case. I was once on a panel of Science Fair judges for a small elementary school. One project that I had very high regard for applied the scientific method, and the result was that the hypothesis was disproved. (I don't remember the details, but it involved the conditions under which an apple slice will quickly turn brown.) The experiment was well documented, used a control sample, and it was obvious from the way it was presented that the student had absolutely no help from her parents. I was thoroughly impressed and easily considered it the best effort from the fifth-grade class.
One of the other judges - the school's science teacher, of all people - gave it a very low score. I asked her why it scored so low, and she cited the presentation: It was nothing but pages of notes pasted to a poster board, with apple slices in zip-lock bags taped along the bottom. It had no pizzazz! But the thing she disliked most of all was that the experiment was a failure! (That is, the hypothesis was disproved!) I tried to explain to her that there's no such thing as experimental failure, and that disproving a hypothesis is just as valid a scientific conclusion as proving one. But she wouldn't budge. When I asked her what project she liked the best, she pointed one out that had a marvelous presentation, but was totally devoid of application of the scientific method. It was a plastic model of a dinosaur in a poster board diorama, or some such thing. I asked her why she liked that one, and she said that it had pretty colors.
AAAAAAHHHHH!
Don't get me wrong. A poster board diorama with a plastic model of a dinosaur is a fine science fair project from a fifth-grader. But when someone in the class not only "gets it," but "gets it in spades," then that person deserves to win first place. But she didn't. I persuaded the rest of the judges to reconsider the apple experiment, and most of them "saw the light" and moved it up in the rankings. But she took only second place. First place, thankfully, went to another proper application of the scientific method (one who's experiment "worked"), while third place went to the dinosaur.
I took the time to write a letter of encouragement to the student who conducted the apple experiment and told her how impressed I was with the way she conducted her experiment. To this day, she is the only fifth-grader I have ever known about who knew what a control sample was and how to use it in an experiment. I hope my company hires her as my boss, someday.
[Edited last by BrianW on November 01, 2001 at 08:44 AM]

#### BrianW

Senior HTF Member
Darren, if you want to take a stab at something more esoteric and unique, you may want to try exploring an “untestable hypothesis,” or thought experiment.
For instance, what if the Earth were shaped like a cube? You could calculate the effects such a shape would have on the seasons, daylight patterns, even the lunar orbit. You could even explore socio-political issues like the impact a cubic world would have on time zone divisions and terrestrial broadcast technologies.
What if the Sun suddenly disappeared?
What if ice sank instead of floated?
Be cautioned that these are things that don’t fully apply the scientific method, since experiments can’t be devised to test the hypotheses that arise from asking these What If questions. As such, a Science Fair judge may not immediately see the value of these thought experiments. But a thorough exploration of the ramifications of the What If conditions can be even more revealing of scientific prowess. And, to be sure, such thorough, investigative ability is required in fields of science like astronomy and theoretical physics. Notions like “Dark Matter” and “Negative Gravity” come from scientists whose job it is to explore What Ifs and pursue them to their logical – even if currently untestable – conclusions.
This strategy is not for the faint-of-heart, and, if not done properly or thoroughly, can come across as a seriously lame copout. But for those who are up to it, this type of project will stand out as a genuinely unique effort requiring critical thought and sound judgement.

#### Greg_R

##### Screenwriter
Something related to audio would be neat. Things like dampening materials, room setup, speaker construction, etc. are all based of various acoustic (physics) principles. You'd need to find something that wouldn't cost too much. Perhaps testing/inventing various sound deadening materials?
Greg

#### Darren Davis

##### Stunt Coordinator
All of these replies have been great. The "What if?" sounds neat but one requirement for this project is 40 data points. I think I'll do the audio dampening material. I'd have to get an SPL meter and I want one anyway
. I think I'll set it up like this: build or buy a pretty sturdy wooden box with a removable top. Then place a small computer speaker in there (it'll be the only speaker that can fit) and run a certain frequency (say, 1000 Hz) with a tone generator I have on my computer and make a small opening for the SPL meter and test the db level in there. That'll be my control so then for each additional test I could just line the box with a different material and test which causes the biggest drop in db. Does this sound like a good project? I've never really done anything like this before so any comments, suggestions, etc. are most certainly welcomed.
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#### BrianW

Senior HTF Member
Darren, Greg's idea is a fantastic one, and I think you've made a great choice! (Plus, it is a good excuse to get an SPL meter.) You may want to conduct the experiment at several frequencies, which will not only make your data more conclusive, but also provide more data points for the requirements.
I think I'll set it up like this: build or buy a pretty sturdy wooden box with a removable top. Then place a small computer speaker in there (it'll be the only speaker that can fit) and run a certain frequency (say, 1000 Hz) with a tone generator I have on my computer and make a small opening for the SPL meter and test the db level in there. That'll be my control so then for each additional test I could just line the box with a different material and test which causes the biggest drop in db.
Will you have the SPL meter directly in front of the speaker? If so, you may not get much in the way of measurable dampening. And the shape of your box will determine whether reflections will reinforce or cancel the direct sound path and perhaps play a bigger role than the dampening material in determining sound pressure. To make matters worse, reflections will have a different impact at different frequencies.
This will royally screw up your data. At frequencies which are amplified by the box shape, a good dampening material will reduce the measured SPL, since it reduces the amplitude of the reinforcing reflections. That's all fine and good. But for frequencies that are dampened by the box shape, a good dampening material will actually increase SPL, since it reduces the destructively interfering reflections. With sufficient tests at a sufficient number of frequencies, everything you test will have both a dampening and amplifying property, which won't provide very useful data.
I'd suggest designing the box with baffles to minimize or eliminate a direct sound path between the speaker and the SPL meter. Perhaps you could build something like a V-shaped tunnel, with the speaker at one end of the V, the SPL meter at the other end of the V, and material to be tested at the bottom of the V to provide a reflective surface for the sound.
But above all, don't forget the hypothesis. You must have one before you start collecting data.

#### Darren Davis

##### Stunt Coordinator
Thanks Brian. I never even thought that the design or certain materials could actually affect the readings in the sense of actually increasing the sound level. So, about this v-shaped tunnel. Are you suggesting I place the speaker at the smaller end and the meter closer (but not all the way back) to the larger opening end? That is the way sound waves travel so that design does sound better.
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#### BrianW

Senior HTF Member
I see I haven't communicated very well.
Instead of a thousand more words, how about a picture:

I've left the SPL side "unplugged" to help minimize the effect of standing waves.
One of the hardest parts of designing an experiment is making sure that you're measuring the very thing you want to measure, and not some other, unforeseen variable. I'm sure I haven't covered all the bases, but I think this will get you off to a good start.

#### BrianW

Senior HTF Member
Dang it all, Andrew! You're not only faster than I am, but you're a better artist, too!

#### Bill Catherall

##### Screenwriter
Unless you are planning on testing the "dampening" effects of water, milk, beer, soda pop, etc. call it "damping."

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Bill

#### Darren Davis

##### Stunt Coordinator
oooohhhhhhhhh...yes, the pictures help immensely! Now I understand. Makes sense, too
. Thanks everyone. Now what materials should be used? I'll probably use commercial material but I'd also like to test other things that could work but aren't commercially used.
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#### BrianW

Senior HTF Member
Uh... thanks, Bill.

Would you believe that I thought we were talking about fluid dynamics?
How about, um... vapor pressure? yeah, that's it. I thought we were talking about vapor pressure!
Gee, this scientific lingo confuses me sometimes. No wonder my HVAC contractor tried to order a humidifier when all I really wanted was a "damper."
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"One dampener. That'll be \$598.72."

#### Jin E

##### Second Unit
I'm not sure how much Money you guys have to spend... but this might be a pretty cheap experiment you could do. The experiment will measure the thermal performance of the common everyday ice cube. You will take several glasses of water at identical temperatures. In the glasses of water you will place Ice Cubes of different shapes and sizes. You might want to come up with a way to measure the weight of each cube, and insert an identical volume (which is proportional to the weight so you will put in identical weights) of ice into each glass (with a identical volume of water in each glass). You will basically make a plot of temperature v. time. Every minute ot 30 seconds you will take a measurement of the temperature (you might want to take more readings towards the beginning when you first insert the cubes). After a while the temp will stabalize and then slowly drop back down to room temp. What shape cools the quickest? What shape keeps the water the coolest the longest? Does the smape matter? Of course the most important factor of the heat transfer between the water and ice will the the surface area of the ice cube. You can hypothisize which cube will cool down the quickest by which one has the greatest surface area (that's why some cubes have a hole in the middle... more surface area!!!). Will the shape of the cube affect which glass of water will return to room temperature the quickest?!?! Anyhoo... just a though.
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-Jin
My Theater

#### Darren Davis

##### Stunt Coordinator
^BUMP^. It's me again. I've been searching all around the internet and I'm having a pretty hard time finding damping materials faqs and info. Most sites just try to sell me stuff like Dynomat, etc. Do any of you know sites with lots of info about different materials or know any off the top of your heads? I want to use at least 10 for my project. Sorry with the persisting questions but I think I'll actually enjoy doing this project.
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#### Bill Catherall

##### Screenwriter
Damping (or non-damping) materials:
Sound board
Styrofoam
Drywall
Egg carton
Polyester batting
Wood (pine)
Glass
Fiberglass insulation
Rockwool (sp?) insulation
All these are available at either your local hardware or fabric store (or refrigerator). I'm sure you can come up with some others. Perhaps you can add to the complexity by also testing combinations. For instance, put a layer of fiberglass insulation over sound board and cover that with foam padding. You can also test various types of foam padding: vary the thickness, vary the shape (ridges, flat, egg carton shape).
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Bill

#### Darren Davis

##### Stunt Coordinator
thanks a ton for that list. Oh God no...not egg cartons...two years ago I did a science fair project on insulation and one material I chose was egg-carton and I needed about 100 cartons. Well, I wasn't about to down all of those eggs so I ended up in the trash area in back of a Publix grocery store sifting through bags of styrofoam material trying to get these cartons. Once again, this forum has helped me in more ways than one. Thanks

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