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Second annual middle school science fair builds a tradition of success

The West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s second annual middle school science fair on March 7 was successful in three important ways, according to CREST’s program coordinator, Amy Schauer.

“We’ve got more projects, more investment, more involvement by kids. It’s moving in the direction that we want it to,” she said.

With over 100 student projects, fair participation increased by about 25 percent over last year, Schauer said. Up to 15 students from each school now will advance to the Northwest Science Expo in Portland April 4.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Nathan Tidball discusses his science fair project with judges at the middle school science fair March 7.Participating students’ involvement was evidenced by their eagerness to talk about their projects, both with judges and their peers.

Athey Creek sixth-grader Hunter Shepersky presented research on plant growth. She worked with classmate Abby Schmidt to discover what color light best promotes plant growth.

The project was inspired, in part, by Hunter’s interest in home gardening.

“I wanted to find under what color of light plants grow best in,” she said. “I wanted to find if there was a way plants would grow better than just in natural sunlight.”

Her dad helped out by building boxes for the plants to grow in. Each box was wired for a light bulb, with power coming from a wall socket. Each section of the box had a different colored light bulb, and the bulbs were lit 24 hours a day, so no variables would change, Hunter said.

The two young scientists planted four bean seeds in each pot. The seeds were evenly spaced, and each pot was given the same amount of water. The girls measured plant growth in each pot.

The weather was one variable the scientists just couldn’t control, though. A series of snow days meant no classes at Athey Creek or any other district schools, and that meant the plants’ growth could not be measured on those days.

“Something I could have done differently was to keep the plant box at my house,” Hunter said.

“At first we thought blue light would do best,” Hunter said. “But light isn’t just the color it reflects. There are lots of different colors in each light bulb.”

In the end, the students’ research didn’t really reveal a definitive answer to the question.

Although she hasn’t thought too far ahead, Hunter is certain that she will participate in the science fair again next year.

“I haven’t really thought about it quite yet,” she said. “But I might want to do plant growth again.”

Nathan Tidball’s project, titled “A battery’s life is too short,” was inspired by a dose of professional jealousy.

A seventh-grader at Inza R. Wood Middle School, Tidball had been reading about an accelerator constructed by a Japanese researcher.

“It would create more energy than it took in,” he said. “He created infinite energy.”

In response, he decided to create perpetual motion. He started by building a generator.

“It worked, to a point,” he said.

Not one to let success — or failure — slow him down, Tidball redesigned his experiment several times. Pleased at last with his success, he decided to write to NASA to ask the space agency to take his experiment up to the International Space Station.

“If I were to have this in a vacuum, it would go to maximum velocity,” he said. “I was wondering what the effect of zero gravity would be.”

He plans to continue working on his project.

“I haven’t really completed it,” he said. “My first design, I tried to create perpetual motion. It’s my perpetual science project.”

Two Rosemont Ridge sixth-graders, Riley Badnin and Kelsey Bjorklund, dived into engineering with their project, building a “green” robot.by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Kelsey Bjorklund, left, and Riley Badnin built a robot to pick up and dispose litter. Both girls are sixth-graders at Rosemont Ridge Middle School.

“We built a robot that can go out and pick up litter,” Badnin said. “We see litter on the sides of the street all the time. We decided to fix that.”

A veteran of Lego robotics, Badnin had a robotics kit at home that formed the basis of the experiment. She recruited Bjorklund to join the team, even though the latter was a robotics rookie.

“Before this year, I had no experience with Lego robotics,” Bjorklund said.

Like Tidball, the girls persevered through several versions of their experiment as they worked through trial and error.

“Our first prototype was called the Guardbot. But it didn’t really work,” Bjorklund said. “The second was called the Tribot. It didn’t really work either.”

“We tried our own design, and it works. But we haven’t found the right program to make it work,” Badnin said. A few small glitches did not detract from their demonstration of the robot’s capabilities, as it picked up a wad of paper and made its way up a ramp to deposit the paper into a trash can.

“It’s really fun,” Badnin said, adding that she and her teammate enjoyed building and testing different robots.

“At the end, we were getting more and more rushed,” she said. “So that made it more exciting.”

By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
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