Hundreds of students delve into predictions, research, experiments at West Pictou

John Brannen
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LYONS BROOK – The curdling of milk; the power of potatoes; the best whitening toothpaste. 

Grade 8 Pictou West Consolidated School Graicen Murray worked on a science fair project that examined which brand of lactase pill, used to break down lactose in milk, dissolves the fastest. The project, one of about 100, was of special interest to Murray since she is lactose intolerant. JOHN BRANNEN – THE NEWS

While some scientists tackle issues like global warming and the exploration of outer space, the young scientists at West Pictou Elementary School are researching decidedly more grassroots issues

Nearly 200 students flexed their mental muscles Tuesday at the school’s annual science fair. While the fair is part of the grade 7 and 8 curriculum, students from other grades and French immersion contribute as well.

Teacher Becky Hollis said it’s all about giving students a chance to use science independently.

“The fair affords students a chance to do testing and experimenting outside the classroom,” she said. “It gives them a taste of what science is all about.”

Students are graded on originality, use of the scientific method, the accurate analysis of data and real-world applications. The latter is particularly true for Grade 8 student Graicen Murray of Meadowville.

“My science fair project tested which brand of lactase enzyme supplement dissolved the fastest,” she said. “I tested three brands by using hot water and stirring it.”

It was a worthwhile experiment since Murray is lactose intolerant and requires lactase if she consumes milk products.

According to Hollis, having an interest or connection to the project, like Murray, often produces better work.

“They tend to be the best ones because there’s just a greater level of interest,” she said. “But that’s not to say other projects can’t be excellent.”

Christopher Russell, who recently moved to the county from Ontario, had a project with an interesting question: ‘Are you crusty enough?’ The research began after Russell first witnessed curdled milk.

“I just saw it on the table once,” he said. “So I started my project with the prediction that skim milk would curdle faster because there was less fat than the whole milk.”

It turned out the opposite was true as full-fat milk has less lactose than non-fat and will spoil at a slightly slower rate. The experiment took place in his bedroom.

“My parents were fine with it, just as long as it didn’t happen in the living room.”

A different experiment was present at the fair as potatoes were used to generate power, this time for a calculator. Using nails, copper wires and zinc, Kyle Heighton was able to turn the calculator on.

“The acid inside the potato forms a chemical reaction with the zinc and copper, and when the energy flows, it acts like a battery,” he said.

It’s piqued his interest in getting power from the spuds. In fact, he conceded that he’ll need a few more potato batteries to be able to perform calculations on the device.

“You can also use a lemon as well,” he said. “While in class though, I’ll stick to the real battery in my calculator.”

While student and community members officially judge the science fair submissions, students also get to vote for their favourite project. There are also other awards such as best oral presentation and display. The top 10 projects will move on to the regional science fair.

“I’ve been doing this for about eight years and I’m seeing a lot of projects with real world applications,” said Hollis. “The students have done a great job at applying their knowledge.”

On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn

Organizations: West Pictou Elementary School

Geographic location: Pictou, Ontario

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