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Kids investigate DNA and the 5-second rule

Courtney Mims had a question: Is there any truth to the five-second rule?

Courtney, 9, had watched an episode of the Food Network show Food Detectives that examined whether it was safe to eat something that had been on the ground for no more than five seconds.

So Courtney created her own five-second-rule experiment. She dropped a piece of cheese on the floor in her home and examined it.

"A lot of bacteria grew on the cheese," she said.

Courtney and more than 640 Fayette County students in grades four through 12 presented experiments at the 25th annual Kentucky American Water Science Fair on Saturday at Bryan Station High School.

The school's gym was filled with presentation boards that displayed pictures and explanations of projects. The younger students' experiments examined a variety of topics, such as how much DNA is in a banana, whether plants listen and what concrete is good for. The presentations closer to the stage displayed the more complex work of the high school entrants, delving into cellular respiration and the effect of tangibility on memory.

"I think we have a bright future ahead of us if our kids stay on track," said Courtney's mother, Natalie Mims.

Judges went from display to display and questioned students about their experiments, while parents watched from the surrounding bleachers. The winning students — 120 in all — will advance to the Central Kentucky Regional Science Engineering Fair on March 7 at the University of Kentucky.

Six students with projects related to water earned the Water Award. And three students with projects related to the environment received the new Mayor's Urban Environmental Award from Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry. The mayor joined Kentucky American Water President Nick Rowe and Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman in the award presentations.

Paul Laurence Dunbar senior Han Shi's project explored whether imaging can detect the effects of a lung cancer vaccine.

Han, who won a medal for his project, said he has enjoyed working on the yearlong project.

"It's a mysterious disease, cancer," he said.

Han also enjoyed looking at the younger children's experiments.

"It's fun seeing the kids being nurtured into scientists," he said.

Ellen Watts, 12, conducted an experiment at her grandmother's day care to figure out whether traditional hand-washing or hand sanitizer is more effective for 4-year-olds. Watts said she learned that sanitizer is better because small children don't wash thoroughly enough.

Watts, who is home-schooled, has been in two or three other science fairs.

"I like the competition to see how well I do," she said.

Reach Ashlee Clark at (859) 626-5878.

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