32nd annual Fayette county science fair
Let us begin with the obvious: C.J. Labianca is a really smart guy — an alpha, Type A intellect.
The Dunbar High School junior’s entry in the 2016 Kentucky American Water Science Fair was titled “Optimization of Beta in a Measure of Political Power in Social Networks.”
C.J. authoritatively explained his project to a pair of judges using terms such as “political independence index equation.” After that, the explanation got really hard: Ideas such as average path length, modularity and population of negative edges were bandied about, glittering, and, to the average Josephine, intellectually beyond grasp.
That’s the point of the science fair, held this year at Tates Creek High School: It gives Fayette County students, from homeschoolers to magnet students in specialized math and science programs, a shot at authentically working out a scientific method, then defending it before judges from the community.
While C.J.’s project was high-level computer science and mathematics, science projects from the more than 600 participating students ran the gamut: “The Effect of Chord Length on Propeller Efficiency,” “The Effect of Temperature on Cricket Foraging,” and simpler projects from younger students, such as “Memory Melodies,” which measured whether listening to country music would help test subjects learn better (it did not: study in silence, kids).
Kian Rosenau of Ashland Elementary said he got the idea for his project from watching his family’s chickens fleeing from a dog. The fastest chicken, he thought, would have an edge in survival.
Unfortunately, herding the chickens to measure speed proved rather like herding cats: The feathered critters were not highly motivated to get in gear without a predator nearby. Nonetheless, of the three species he surveyed, the Golden Buff proved the fastest.
It was pretty gross. You had to spit in a cup.
Lauran Owens-Mundy, on her scientific method
Lauran Owens-Mundy of Bryan Station Middle School experimented with which beverages left teeth susceptible to decay. On her way to concluding that Sprite is not the greatest thing to sip on if you want to keep your teeth, Lauran had an epiphany about her method, which involved giving her 10 test subjects juice and soft drinks, then having them, er, produce liquid material.
“It was pretty gross,” she said. “You had to spit in a cup.”
Still, Lauran said, it was worth it in the end: “I don’t want to be 50 and have no teeth.”
Gaby Turof SCAPA at Bluegrass got her project idea by watching her father, who switched from cigarettes to vaping in an effort to quit smoking altogether.
Everyone knows that cigarettes are bad for you, she thought, but is vaping all that much healthier?
She devised a plan to measure how long smokers and vapers could hold their breath, and then she combed the community to get a diverse 80 individuals to participate. She concluded that while vaping enthusiasts do somewhat better, it would really help to have more variables to draw a more definitive conclusion — things like age, ethnicity and measurements made over time.
“This is something that is new,” Gaby said. “Nobody knows what vaping does.”
Perhaps the most encouraging measure of the caliber of students involved was a random remark heard between two students near the end of judging: “Did you bring any homework? We can go over there and do our homework while we wait.”