Over a year ago, Trafalgar middle school student Oliver Arcuri became curious about dog poop bags — he wanted to know how long it takes them to biodegrade. So he buried four different ones to see what would happen.
“He found the bags didn’t decompose at all, except for the paper bags. So now he’s decided he wants to invent a dog poop bag that does biodegrade because the one he was told would biodegrade did nothing in a year,” said Ann McDonnell, co-chair of the school’s science fair held this week.
“That’s the best part of a science fair: a child finds a topic and goes ‘wow, that’s so interesting’ and keeps going. I know Oliver’s already buried more bags for the next project he’s doing.”
He’s not the only one discovering a passion for the scientific method — Trafalgar is sending 25 students from Grades 6 to 8 on to regionals. The Star spoke with four of them: Johanna Brochhagen, Marissa Price, Caleb Peil and Liam Ingram.
Their projects cover an idiosyncratic variety of topics, including hand dryers, generators, fishing lures and reading screens. And most started with a simple question. Marissa Price’s: “Are my hands actually clean?”
“I decided to do this experiment because I’m a huge fan of paper towel dispensers and I noticed them slowly disappearing from our school in favour of hand dryers,” she said.
So one day she looked up the chute.
“The only filter was a metal mesh covering. I thought ‘this can’t be sanitary’. We don’t know where any of that air is being sucked up from. So I decided to do a test to see how gross it was, and the results are terrifying.”
What would she tell superintendent Jeff Jones?
“I would tell him our hand washing and drying system is ineffective and isn’t preventing the spread of bacteria. Signs everywhere say ‘wash your hands’ and that does work, but once you turn on the hand dryer you’re spewing bacteria back on to your hands.”
Brochhagen’s question was literary-themed, as her mother works at the library.
“I think there’s a difference between reading in print or on a screen, so I wondered do screens affect reading comprehension?”
Though her results were inconclusive, she plans to continue investigating.
Meanwhile, Ingram is trying to find a way to create better fishing bait.
“Plastic baits pollute and stop fish digestion,” he said. “I decided to make friendly bait that tastes good for fish, is healthy for the environment, and doesn’t get stuck in their digestive system.”
Using gelatin, glycerine, water and dye in a mould he created a colourful assortment of baits. And his isn’t the only project where students have taken it upon themselves to build something — Peil constructed his own Tesla electrical generator.
“It started with me having the idea of working on a turbine, and mostly came from my brother Dylan because he built one years ago and it didn’t work out,” he said. Caleb’s older brother attended the national science fair last year, and inspired him to pursue this project.
“I was concerned about house taps. Have you ever thought about all that water pressure moving through your house? Now what if you put something in that could use that pressure, like a turbine? So I thought I’d make one.”
And he did. It’s already started generating power, and Caleb has ambitions to team up with his brother.
“My brother’s satellite dish is covered in 92 mirrors. Think about that. That’s 92 suns aimed at one spot. Now imagine, you could melt metal or anything. So what if you aimed it at a tank of water? You could harness all the steam with a turbine, like the one I’ve built.”
And that power can be used for a whole spectrum of things.
“It could go into your light bulbs, into your house. You could charge your phone,” he said.
The 25 students selected to attend regionals will compete at L.V. Rogers on April 2.
“You’ll find these kids are incredibly well spoken and are passionate about what they study,” McDonnell said. “They find interesting topics, build things, try and blow stuff up and do long-term experiments. It’s exciting to see a child 11, 12 and 13 years old get excited.”
According to her, that feeling is contagious.
“You wonder where it might lead.”