Great Falls College MSU was packed on Tuesday morning as the Montana Region II Science and Engineering Fair kicked off.
Students in grades six to 12 from Glacier, Toole, Liberty, Teton, Pondera, Cascade and Judith Basin counties packed the hallways of the school with their project boards and prototypes. Eighteen schools and several home-school students were represented.
More than 150 judges wandered the college, quizzing 308 middle school students and 44 high school students from hypothesis to conclusion and everything in between.
Centerville seventh-grader Cade Hutchins proudly demonstrated his tornado tubes despite the fact that his hypothesis that hot water would travel through the tornado faster than cold water proved to be incorrect.
“I thought since the hot molecules are moving faster in the water, it would be faster,” Cade said. “I concluded that the cold molecules were more tightly packed, so the water was denser and it sunk. It’s like hot and cold air or ocean currents.”
Cade crafted his project with two 32-ounce soda bottles and a red, plastic bottle connector.
Cade is used to MacGyvering materials together from his experience with Centerville’s NASA project. He is helping to create a spacesuit that can withstand the vacuum of space.
“I think when I grow up, I want to be an engineer.”
Leanne Frost, director of general education, business, technology and transfer division at Great Falls College MSU, said the goal of this event is to get area students excited about science and engineering fields.
“This is a great opportunity for students of all ages to show off their enthusiasm for science,” Frost said.
Upstairs, Simms junior Avery Harris stood in front of her plywood project board illustrating the best way to clean medical equipment for patients with cystic fibrosis. Avery approached her project with sentimental attachment.
Avery’s grandfather relied on medical equipment, but often cleaned it by only rinsing it and then leaving it out. Avery imagined this method was ineffective at staving off bacteria growth.
Avery started working at the college with a doctor whose daughter has cystic fibrosis. She was presented a challenge: could she deduce what cleaning method is most effective for patients reliant on medical equipment?
Avery used three different types of bacteria in her experiment: E. coli, staph and pseudomonas aeruginosa. “I though boiling it would be the most effective,” she said. “It proved to be true, but most medical equipment is made of plastic and can only be boiled for five minutes before it starts to melt.”
She also experimented with gold and silver nanoparticles to see if they would prevent growth. She concluded that it did work with some of the bacteria, but did not stop all of them.
Many students put just as much time into presenting their projects as they did conducting experiments. Boards of all shapes, sizes and colors illustrated their methods and findings with text, photographs and charts.
Amanda Nix, 7-12 science teacher at Sunburst, said this experience is extremely important for students.
“It is cross-curricular,” Nix said. “They’re writing, researching, presenting and learning new computer programs for science.”
Sunburst students worked on their projects almost exclusively during school time to ensure each student had the same level of time and access to complete their experiments.
“It’s all done at school so they can support each other and have the teachers there,” Nix said. “It levels the playing field for all students who might not have support at home.”
All of the science fair supplies were provided to the Sunburst students by a local sponsor.
The high school portion of the science fair is sanctioned by Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The top projects from the high school grades will be eligible to participate in the national ISEF event in Los Angeles in May.
Awards were presented by Mayor Bob Kelly.
The science fair continues on Thursday, March 16, for the elementary students. It will begin at 8:30 a.m. and run until 2 p.m. The Great Falls College MSU STEM Club will entertain the audience with a few science experiments at 11:15 a.m. Then the awards ceremony begins at 1 p.m.