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Budding scientists take centre stage


Jay Neilson is one of the few kids in the world who was able to bring worms into class and not get in trouble for it.

Mind you, the fifth-grader’s collection of dew worms, red wigglers, and a mysterious variety dubbed “garden” worms were all part of his science fair project on display until tomorrow at Sturgeon Creek School.

Neilson’s project is entitled “How Worms Eat My Garbage,” and the title says it all. He wanted to see if combining garden worms with dew worms, which supposedly are on the low end of “vermicomposters,” could match the digestive integrity of the red wigglers, which textbooks say eat and expel their weight in—well, garbage—each and every day.

“The red wigglers worked better,” he said, pointing to the pictures taken of garbage bin ‘B’ at different intervals during the experiment.

“It’s visual observations,” Neilson added, noting how pieces of orange peel and potato skin slowly disappeared in the progression of pictures to be replaced by a dark, soil-like compound.

Neilson said he got his science fair project idea from a 4-H pamphlet his mother gave him. But Susan Brielmann picked her topic out of the pages of “American Scientist.”

Frankly, how else would the eighth-grader come up with doing . . . electrophoresis?

“It’s the separation of molecules through the use of an electric field,” she explained, showing off her display.

Brielmann said she put different plants in an alcohol solution to dissolve different compounds from the leaves. Then she let the alcohol evaporate and placed the remaining substance in a coloured gel.

The gel then was hitched up to a set of electrodes and watched how things happened.

“I learned I could separate molecules by size,” she said. “The smaller the molecule, it went faster and further [than the larger molecules].

“[Scientists] use it to match skin problems and to match blood,” she added. “And you can find out if two plants that don’t look alike all are the same species.”

Meanwhile, seventh-grader Mark Heyens’ project was more along the “Tim Taylor” method of thinking—more power.

“The purpose was to make the biggest electromagnet I can build and to see the biggest thing I can pick up with it,” he said. “I thought it would be a neat project.”

So far, Heyens is up to a 8.5-pound sledgehammer and handle. He uses a 12-volt car battery to act as the power source for his magnet, which is just a large nut and bolt with wire and tape wrapped around it.

“I have to wear protective gloves because the first time I used it, the tape [on the magnet] got quite warm and melted,” he noted.

Norman Hyatt, a grade seven/eight teacher at Sturgeon Creek School, said there was a good selection of science fair projects this year—and a good deal of effort put into them.

“The prime benefit of a science project is that this time the children have to do things on their own,” he explained. “And it also gets the parents involved. Quite often with these, the parent is helping.”

“It allows the children to pursue something that interests them,” agreed grade six/seven teacher Wayne Barron.

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