Some of the experiments at the Coeur d’Alene School District Science Fair answer those lingering consumer questions.
Which microwave popcorn pops better?
Which brand of golf ball sails farthest?
Others explored more esoteric concerns, such as whether potatoes produce electricity, and what effect temperature has on the growth of crystals.
Tyler Ward wanted to know what cigarettes do to a smoker’s lungs.
“My 16-year-old brother smokes and I don’t like it,” said Tyler, as he finished setting up his science fair display Friday.
The experiment, using tubing, a hand pump and jar of angel hair, shows the brown residue left on the lungs from a pack of cigarettes.
“It’s sickening,” Tyler said, wrinkling his nose at the once-white fiber.
More than 500 diverse experiments are on display at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds from 3 to 6 p.m. today and 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
The entries are dominated by elementary school students. Only a handful of high school students entered. That’s a big change from when Mildred Trembley started volunteering at the annual fair in 1958.
The retired teacher has seen other changes in the fair, too.
“We have fewer volcanos and solar systems. We were so tired of those,” she said. “Kids do have better ideas now.”
The older students tend to have more time-consuming, high-tech experiments, which some teachers say may deter busy teenagers.
High school science teacher Dave Rodriguez would like to see more incentives to get high school students to enter.
“What impresses a 16-year-old? A plaque or a ribbon?” he asked, shaking his head in answer.
The lack of incentive didn’t stop Neils Nesse, a ninth-grader, who brought a display on visual math. He wrote his own programs for producing fractals, mathematically produced shapes that are consistent throughout, no matter what fraction of them are observed.
“All the images are from my own equations,” Neils said as he set up the computer.
His was the exception. Most of the experiments were low-tech affairs, though the displays benefitted from advances in desktop publishing.
A few incorporated electricity, such as the potato experiment.
In what looked like a scene from a Frankenstein spoof, citrus fruit and a potato were lined up in a row, plugged with electrical wires leading to test tubes.
The test tubes had salt water in them, which bubbled when the fruit produced an electrical current, explained teacher Mary Jo Welch.
“In the fourth- and fifth-grade, I see more project-oriented experiments,” Welch said. “We’re getting better questions.”
So, can a potato produce electricity? Visit the fairgrounds and find out.