A new generation of scientists


A judge walks the center aisle of the Alachua Regional Science and Engineering Fair Tuesday, January 31, 2006, at the Santa Fe Community College gym. Judges' worked from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday narrowing down the more than 200 entries into just 30 finalists. The finalists will go to Orlando for the State Fair later this February and will be announced during an awards ceremony at Gainesville High School February 2nd, from 7 to 8 p.m.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 12:03 a.m.
If you ever wondered which antacid works best, what happens to worms that use tobacco or how wearing a backpack affects your posture, just ask a child.
Those were just a few of the questions answered in the 223 projects on display at the Alachua County Regional Science and Engineering Fair Tuesday. Judges spent the day looking over the Alachua County middle- and high-schoolers' experiments in the Santa Fe Community College gymnasium.
As he waited his turn to be judged, 11-year-old Rohit Ki Singh explained that he picked a project that would help his mom and dad.
"I did it because, when my parents eat pizza, they get heartburn," the Lincoln Middle Schooler said. Rohit tested Tums, Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer and several other antacids to find which offered the fastest relief.
To figure it out, he went to his mom's work, the GTech Lab in Gainesville, and soaked each antacid in a beaker full of hydrochloric acid, timing them with a stopwatch and charting their progress. He found Alka-Seltzer was the fastest.
Health was seventh-grader Emily Zapata's concern, too, when she conducted her study called "We're students, not mules!"
"I got off the bus one day, and my back was killing me," the St. Patrick Interparish School student said. So she lined up five of her closest friends to help her test which backpack would be best for her back.
The friends stood on a line she made on the floor while Emily held a plumb line near their ears and measured how far the weight at the bottom landed from the line on the floor. Then she had each student put on a backpack and measured the distance again. Thirdly, she had the students exercise with the backpacks on, running up and down some stairs, and she took another reading.
Some of the lines changed by as much as 9 inches, while others showed only a single inch difference.
Emily said the best bags were consistently marked for approval by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Those backpacks mold to you, rather than making you mold to the backpack," she said.
Kanapaha Middle School student Justin Rafanan, a seventh-grader, decided to test the way planaria reacted to substances that may be hazardous to humans, such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine.
He sliced the regenerating worms and fed them one of the substances. He found the alcohol mutated the worms, causing one to grow two tails. The tobacco killed almost all the worms he gave it to. But worms he fed coffee surprised even Justin.
"It barely affected them. It just made them bigger and more active," he said.
Other student projects tested whether mice can lose weight by exercising; which lipsticks last the longest; how to get the most distance out of a water rocket.
The students who showed their work Tuesday dressed the part in suits, ties, skirts and dresses. Judges, many of whom are professors at UF and SFCC, circulated through the room, visiting and grading each exhibit.
The judges had to narrow the entries down to 30 finalists, which will continue to the state-level Science and Engineering Fair in Orlando this April. The winners will be announced at Gainesville High School Thursday along with six local-level winners for each of 14 categories. The 7 p.m. awards ceremony will be in GHS's auditorium.
Tiffany Pakkala can be reached at (352) 338-3111 or pakkalt@gvillesun.com

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