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Weird science at Brownsville Elementary

"Catapults and spaghetti sauce-stained linoleum replaced reading, writing and 'rithmatic Wednesday morning as Brownsville Elementary students presented science fair projects to volunteer judges.Participation in the science fair is mandatory for fourth through sixth graders, and optional for the other students. Altogether, they generated 300 exhibits, which were spread throughout the school's library and hallways. Students explained their projects and results with local community members who have backgrounds in various aspects of science.Fifth-grader Michael Karpiak examined the absorption capacity of different brands and sizes of cottonballs. An avid skateboarder, he said he became interested in the subject while watching his mother treat his wounds.I always come home cut up and stuff, he said.Through a series of trials, Karpiak immersed the cottonballs in a specific amount of water, then measured the remaining amount to determine the sample's absorbency.I did it four times, and it took a week, he said.Among the five different subjects, Karpiak discovered the triple-sized cottonballs and the Swisspers brand held the most water.The hardest part of the experiment, Karpiak said, was learning how to record the results of his experiment on the family computer.I learned where the keys were really fast, he said.After being told that drinking soda can make people jittery, sixth grader Emily Ahrens said she decided to examine the effect of caffeine on her classmates' reflexes.Supplying each of her fellow students with a cup of Diet Pepsi, she then dropped a ruler between her subjects' fingers and measured how far the ruler fell before the students reacted and caught it. Ahrens said the boys seemed to react to the dropping ruler more quickly 10 minutes after they drank the soda than they did 30 seconds after they drank the soda. Girls reacted about the same both 10 minutes and 30 seconds after. The difference between the two groups is likely that the boys are more active than the girls and have better reflexes naturally.I think that's because more of them are athletic than the girls, she said.Ahrens concluded from her experiment that caffeine could be used as an aid for athletes. But she also said she was surprised how much of an effect caffeine had on her subjects.I learned that caffeine does a lot of things, she said.As excited as the students were to show off their experiments, the volunteer judges said interacting with the children was equally enjoyable.It's very enlightening, said Gale Schaeffer, an architect from Poulsbo. There's some very creative projects here.Spending his fourth year judging the exhibits, retired Naval engineer William Idsinga said the science fair allows students to look at natural occurrences around the world, and then try to explain them.It's very much a broadening of their world, he said. It's a sort of an introduction to the world of technology.Sixth-grade teacher Sally Hannah, the science fair's organizer, said the annual event is so entertaining for the volunteers that there is about an 80 percent return rate for the next year.After eight years, people are calling me to volunteer, she said, so that's really been cool.With about two months to conduct their experiments, perform research and construct their display and journal, Hannah said the students learn how much work goes into exploring the unknown.I think they walk away with a better idea of the scientific process and can apply it to other things, she said."

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