Researching the ‘why’ and ‘how’

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  • St. Matthew’s School eighth-grader Jackson Barrett explains the water turbine he built to judge Martin Jones during the Flathead County Science Fair at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on Thursday. (Aaric Bryan photos/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Helena Flats sixth-grader Jasmine Cartwright explains her science project to judge Jim Lambert at the Flathead County Fair on Thursday. Cartwright tested how the size of the wheel impacts the amount of force it takes to get over an obstacle.

  • St. Matthew’s School eighth-grader Jackson Barrett explains the water turbine he built to judge Martin Jones during the Flathead County Science Fair at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on Thursday. (Aaric Bryan photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Helena Flats sixth-grader Jasmine Cartwright explains her science project to judge Jim Lambert at the Flathead County Fair on Thursday. Cartwright tested how the size of the wheel impacts the amount of force it takes to get over an obstacle.

Third- through 12th-grade students used scientific method and a little ingenuity to answer the questions “why” and “how?”

Students from around the valley showcased this work at the Flathead County Science Fair Thursday. About 180 projects highlighting the biological demonstration, engineering and physical sciences filled the Flathead County Fairgrounds Expo Building.

In the cold of January, Glacier Gateway Elementary third-grader Elaina Dorr wondered if there was a way to lower her family’s heating bill and looked at insulation.

“I wanted to see if there was some way we could put something different in our home besides fiberglass,” Dorr said.

Looking at materials such as fiberglass, sawdust, cotton balls, straw and buckwheat, Dorr hypothesized that the first three would have higher “R-values.”

“R-value is the ability for a material to reduce heat loss,” Dorr explained, thinking that straw and buckwheat would have more air spaces resulting in heat loss.

Dorr had a small-scale wall on display filled with different materials in three columns and covered by white cloth. When conducting her tests she placed three 150-watt light bulbs 12 inches from the insulation for a set time.

“I found buckwheat is the best insulator, but because it’s an organic material it has problems like settling [creating air pockets] and disintegration, molding and bugs,” Dorr said.

If the buckwheat could be treated in some way to prevent those problems, Dorr thinks it might be a good alternative to fiberglass. Dorr earned reserve for her physical project.

Dorr answered questions for judges and explained her physical science project with confidence and clarity. To get ready for the science fair, Dorr participated in after-school classes to help students know what to expect.

St. Matthew’s Catholic School eighth-grader Jackson Barrett asked “why” after a boat ride near a dam, noticing algae at the water’s edge.

He realized the environmental benefits to hydroelectricity and the drawback of a dam’s design in altering water flow and blocking fish migration.

At the fair he explained his design for generating power through hydroelectricity in a way other than dams.

With science, there is a lot of testing and re-testing, he said. Accurate, repeatable results are the end goal.

“It was a little frustrating in the beginning figuring out how to generate electricity,” Barrett said, but he kept at it. His third prototype was a success.

On his exhibit he pointed to an illustration of the design — a system of channels, rotors and pistons.

Barrett demonstrated how his design worked. To move the water down the channels and rotate an overhanging dowel to generate electricity, he glued the ends of spoons to make a paddle system and found success.

Like Barrett, Kalispell Middle School seventh-grader Clarise Sauls was also inventive with her design for the Pack ’N’ Nap Sleepover Bag, earning her reserve in the engineering category.

After losing things from her bag at a friend’s house during a sleepover, finding toothpaste squeezed all over and her clothes wrinkled, Sauls thought there had to be a solution. To come up with that solution Sauls put her sewing skills to work.

“I took a pillow case and sewed a large pocket for clothes and smaller pockets for a toothbrush and toothpaste inside,” Sauls said. “You can put a pillow inside and sleep. There are straps with snaps at the bottom to put around a blanket.”

A person holds the bag by handles, which she had to re-design. Originally she placed the handles so the bag would lie horizontally like a traditional suitcase and enclosed the bag by folding the open end down — but it was awkward. Instead, she moved the handles so the pillow would hang vertically and sewed a cross-body strap so a user could wear it like a backpack.

“It’s pretty handy,” Sauls said after testing it at home, having a friend test it and then finally bringing it on a sleepover.

After concluding that cream was better than spray in blocking the sun’s rays through the use of sun sensitive paper, grand champion in physical science, Kalispell Middle School sixth-grader Calvin Schmidt, realized limitations in explaining why cream was better.

“This data corresponds with my hypothesis, though there is no way to test why cream was better without years of experimenting and research and thousands of dollars in funds.”

Winners in sixth grade and above are eligible to compete at the Montana Science Fair in Missoula on March 27 and 28.

Hilary Matheson is a reporter for The Daily Inter Lake. She may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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