When it comes to engaging young students in science, a group of seventh graders at All Hallows Academy may be proof that finding their interests is key.
Tapping into those interests and creating science experiments around them, led three students to First Place wins in their fields at the 64th annual Greater San Diego County Science & Engineering Fair in mid-March in Balboa Park.
Heading into the statewide competition are Sholeh Mozaffari, Summer Stys and Julia DeAndrade. They will proceed to the California Science & Engineering Fair, April 29-30, in Exposition Park, just south of downtown Los Angeles, where 900 participants from 400 schools will present some 800 projects to compete for awards totaling $60,000.
“There is a science to everything, and I like using science in an interactive way,” Sholeh told La Jolla Light. “This makes it more interesting and fun. It’s really important to find something you’re interested in … and apply science to it (when working on fair project).”
Summer added: “When I was in second grade, I was very into geology — I still am — but as I got older, I started to like chemistry and kitchen sciences, and I helped out with cooking and baking. Once you find the aspect of science you like, you can stick with it and really make it work. I never thought I was a science person, but I surprised myself by finding an area of science that worked for me.”
For schoolmate Mary Tyson, who did not make it to State, but was recognized for her participation in the County-level fair, it was an introduction to engineering that opened her eyes to science.
“I remember at (All Hallows Academy’s) Science Night a few years ago, we had the opportunity to build little houses by sticking toothpicks in gumdrops and it was so fun. I loved doing it, and didn’t realize that was science. I thought science was boring … I started to realize that there were a lot of interesting fields within science,” she said.
In addition to the three State Fair-bound young scientists, several All Hallows students did well in local science competitions.
“24 of our students competed against each other at Science Night and had to come up with their own experiments and do the whole process themselves,” said All Hallows science teacher Chelsea Humkey. “They were judged by representatives from the local science community — an engineer, bio-tech scientist and a doctor of chemistry, etc.
“From there, 13 students were chosen to compete for the County competition, and from those 13, eight were approved and went on to the County Science Fair.” Of those eight, Sholeh, Summer and Julia will proceed to State.
Julia said she sought to determine which surface — between cement, grass, asphalt and sand — would reflect the most amount of ultraviolet rays.
“I was trying to figure out which surface would be the safest and which the most harmful for kids, because many parks and playgrounds have one of those surfaces,” she said. “I used UV measuring beads and a UV reading card and placed them above the surfaces to measure the reflection each surface had. I learned that the sand surface was the most reflective and the grass was the least reflective.”
Of the State competition, Julia added: “This is a great opportunity because I never participated before and I’m excited to experience it and see how it’s going to be.”
Sholeh measured how different hair types respond to different chemical processes. She treated African American, Caucasian and Asian hair with texturizers and different volume developers (a product that activates hair dye) to see which would change the most and least.
“My mom was a cosmetologist for 12 years and she always talked about working on different types of hair, so I thought this would be something interesting to explore,” Sholeh said. She found that depending on the type of product applied, different hair types did respond differently (some in line with her hypothesis, some contrary to it).
Summer tested how a drink’s sugar content would relate to its temperature after a timed period. “I’m really interested in cooking, but I always wondered why I was cautioned when dealing with sugary things,” she said. “This project could help with safety and understanding how to cook with sugary things. If sugars are not watched, they can bubble over or burn something,” she said.
Summer boiled water, coconut water, Gatorade, Sprite and Red bull on a hot stove for five minutes and recorded the temperature and then repeated the process until each drink had been tested 10 times. The she averaged the temperature. “The results showed me that the higher the sugar content, the hotter it will be,” she said. “My hypothesis was correct.”
Mary swabbed the tables at a handful of La Jolla restaurants and tested them for bacteria and found (brace yourself) one had more than 600 bacterial colonies, and all the rest had at least 50 colonies.
“It was very surprising, there was E coli, salmonella, food poisoning, strep, a lot of strep actually, and staph. It was terrible,” she said.
Joey Zabrocki’s project
Joey Zabrocki also participated in the County competition. His project was to test the strength of duct tape compared to flex tape.
“I put some one-inch pieces on my stairway — in between the rail — and, using a digital gauge, pulled on them to measure how much weight it would take to break the seal,” he said. “The flex tape could hold 36 pounds of pressure and the duct tape could only hold 7 pounds, so there was a big difference.”
Joey reports playing with Lego blocks as a child, and wanting to be an engineer when he grows up. “My dad is in the Navy and they do work underwater, and since you could use these underwater, it made me want to do this project,” he said.
Julia, Summer and Sholeh also report feeling drawn to study science as young(er) children.
“My dad is a physicist and I remember in preschool, he would come to school and do these cool presentations. I remember seeing him up there with these steaming chemicals and it seemed so interesting,” Julia said.
Summer added: “My dad is a surveyor in the engineering field, so whenever he saw me playing with Lego or exploring, he would encourage me to keep exploring.”
Giving kudos to All Hallows teachers, Sholeh said: “My teachers have really encouraged me with science. They introduced me to science concepts at an early age and showed me how science is the basis for everything.”