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Science takes center stage at annual fair

March 1, 2019

Students presented their findings on topics ranging from unborn chickens to alternative drinking straws for this year’s Flathead County Science Fair on Thursday.

Projects filled the Expo Building at the Flathead County Fairgrounds with experiments that showed off the students’ creativity, curiosity and brainpower.

Whether they were testing the correlation between earthquake damage and the height of buildings, or working out how to form the purest crystal possible, each young presenter from third to 12th grade faced a series of judges who quizzed them on their projects.

Judges scored each student based on their understanding and application of each step of the scientific method in their experiments in order to prove or disprove their hypotheses.

Drawing her inspiration from recent news developments, 12-year-old Alaura Olszewski from St. Matthew’s School in Kalispell prepared for the judging of her project, “Is this the last straw?”

Olszewski said after hearing some cities have begun banning plastic straws, she decided to test how the alternatives stacked up.

Using water and Diet Pepsi, she tested paper, bamboo, metal, glass, repurposed, wheat and silicon straws for their impact on taste and durability.

A chemical reaction with the bamboo caused the soda to fizz, she said, while the paper straws became soggy and affected the taste. Though she expected the repurposed straw to outshine the rest, she said the experiment named the glass and metal straws the winners.

However, she said the project gave her an idea for her next experiment - how long does it take for the materials to biodegrade?

While Olszewski used herself and her parents as guinea pigs, 10-year-old Tatiana Raymond from Deer Park School, used chicken eggs.

The fourth-grader took the opportunity to learn about how chicks develop inside their eggs by studying two different types of chicken eggs with a flashlight. Starting with 12 eggs, she monitored the growth, weight and consistency of the eggs throughout their three-week development.

Her presentation explained the changes that occur as a yolk becomes a chick and what makes up the different fluids inside the shell.

Home-school student Weston Heller, 10, stood before his bright green aquaponics project inspired from a curiosity sparked at home.

“One day, I noticed that my house plant started growing roots into my fish tank that’s right below where it’s hanging and started getting greener leaves,” Heller said.

Noting the change in appearance, he hypothesized that the fishy water must contain more beneficial nutrients for plant growth than the tap water his family normally used.

By testing and comparing the pH levels, hardness, nitrogen levels and other variables of both the fish water and tap water, he found he was right.

While awaiting the judges, students read or mingled, using extended wait times to check out booths set up by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Flathead Valley Community College and more.

Several students dressed to impress, ready to wow judges with practiced speeches and demonstrations.

According to Gary Lowrance, a first-year judge, he and the other judges worked together to consistently judge each student’s understanding of the experiment, their presentation and the project’s repeatability while providing constructive critiques.

By 9:30 a.m., Lowrance said he was already impressed.

Presentations ended at 11:30 a.m. with a ceremony to follow at noon.

The Flathead County Science Fair is an annual event open to all students grades 3-12 in the county.

The winners will be published in Saturday’s Daily Inter Lake.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.