Science rock stars

From bacteria in the boys washroom to the evolution of stars hundreds of lights years away, science in all its form was at the North Peace Regional Science Fair on Tuesday.

The event featured 240 kids with 198 projects from around the Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, and Fort Nelson areas, according to event chair Jennie Copeland. These children ranged from Grade 4 to Grade 12, and represented 25 schools.

"(The students who attend) get to spend it with like minded other people interested in science," said Copeland. "Having a regional fair, instead of making the sports kids important and turn them into rock stars, we make our scientists and smart kids and kids that are keen become the rock stars of their school."

She has personally seen the benefits to the program, having two children who have done it for multiple years.

"I have fairly shy, introverted children and they gain confidence," she said. "They talk about something they know, something they understand, and part of it is someone there who wants to listen to them. It's only for 15 minutes, but they get to be the most important person for 15 minutes."

One of her children, North Peace Secondary School student Kyle Plamondon, has been at the event for the past five or six years. This year, his project helped map out the evolution of the Hyades star cluster nearly over 150 light years away.

Using computer simulations and material obtained from universities, he was able to determine how much mass these stars in that cluster had, and how they could change in the future. He was also able to make a 3D model of all the stars moving around by their gravity.

Part of his interest in math and science was a speech he heard from a physicist talking about how the universe was formed.

"All this information, as you start to gather it, you start to research it more, and as you start to research it more, you start to gather it down to this one area you'd really like to look more into," Copeland said.

He's greatly enjoyed his many years going to these types of science fairs, and was one of a few students that went to National Science Fair last year. He won a gold medal and a scholarship to go to a physics camp.

"One of the things that I really enjoy about it is, there's a lot more you could actually be rewarded for the work you accomplish in science fair," he said. "As well as meeting a lot of new people that have similar interests for the future, so you can build that social network."

Just to the left of his booth was something much more different - a go-cart powered by an 18 volt electric drill.

Jayden Stafford and Griffin Frederickson created this ride.

"Like every kid's dream, probably, is to build a go cart," said Frederickson.

"We were originally going to try one powered by solar panels, but it's pretty common," said Stafford. "We figured, 'why don't we don't we power it with a drill?'"

It was able to travel past 100 centimetres, and could carry a 240-pound man.

"(Building the go-cart) was very fun and it was also science-y," said Stafford.

Hudson's Hope Elementary students Sarah Haagsman and Wren Naisby tested out which chemicals were best able to take out washable marker stains on clothing. The results were baking soda and vinegar.

"If you ever look in the store and see washing detergents, probably the first ingredient might be baking soda," said Haagsman. "We didn't actually know that until we finished the project."

Haagsman said she didn't know if she wanted to pursue further learning about chemistry.

"I'm not a very big, big fan of science but I'll definitely try it out."

Another project was created by Jordan Streeper, a student at R.L. Angus in Fort Nelson.

Using q-tips, a petri dish, and other equipment, he was able to examine how much bacteria there actually was at his school. His hypothesis - later confirmed - was the vents, because its hot and wet atmosphere offered a growing chance.

(Perhaps surprisingly, the girls and boys bathrooms, which he also measured, had about the same chance of growing bacteria.)

Streeper said he chose bacteria for his project because he thought "would be cool to know more about (bacteria) if you can't see it.

His study's results have had an effect on his fellow students, he added.

"The funny thing is, no one wants to drink tap water (at the school) anymore," Streeper explained. "I think it would be safe (to drink) - it wouldn't kill you."

And another project was done in response to local concerns. Taylor Elementary students Owen Floriant and Dakota Olson built a miniature model of a wind-powered house in part as a response to the proposed Site C hydro-electric dam.

"I went to a few Site C hearings," said Floriant. "People want to make a dam, which isn't very economically, environmentally friendly. Many farmers would have to move out of their homes, and it causes a lot of destructions for animals, their homes, their habitats."

This was a way of demonstrating other methods of more environmentally friendly electricity generation, Floriant added.

In the end, at least one of the judges came away impressed from the ideas he saw.

Chad Carlstrom, a civil engineer for Urban Systems who helped judge the students projects, said he saw students there who wanted to pursue science past the fair itself.

"It's really great to encourage students to continue this questioning of science and trying to make their own discoveries," he said. "I see great original ideas in the projects, and some innovative approaches."

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