The Trials and Travails of Science Fair

By David W. ’19

Every summer, rising seventh and eighth graders are given one deceptively simple assignment: Come up with five ideas. In the months that follow, students will expand one of those ideas into a massive, multi-month project that culminates in a single trifold poster board.

Science fair is an impressive undertaking. It starts with an endless array of forms, rapid brainstorming, and constant refinement as students try to plan out their next few months. After the North Museum approves their project, the experimentation process officially starts.


Students design their experiments from the ground up. They perform initial research, form hypotheses and conduct experiments. After what can become weeks of testing, they meticulously comb through all of their data to form a conclusion.

And finally, on a Monday in January, all of the students bring in their poster boards which are then graded and judged by numerous faculty members. The winners move on to compete in the North Museum Science and Engineering Fair.

On Thursday, the students were able to present their accomplishments to members of the LCDS community in the Buckwalter Gymnasium during Family Science Night. Cougar News spoke to several students to learn more about their work.

Amelia L. ’21 tested different natural substances on termites to determine how well they compete with pesticides currently in use. “My parents both grew up on a farm,” Amelia said. “My mother said that they often used chemicals on their crops to eliminate pests such as termites, and I wondered if there were any alternatives that were more environmentally friendly.” Over the course of seven days, Amelia tested the effect of different substances on termites. “I know a few people who have actually had their homes destroyed by termites — they can be a big problem. But we have to be conscious of the chemicals we’re using,” she said, as humans consume the plants that farmers spray pesticides on. “Hopefully one day we’ll be able to find an alternative to pesticide chemicals.”

Lucas N. ’21 tested the effectiveness of different shapes of seawalls. “About every 1-2 years, a tsunami occurs. And one of the first defenses a city has is a seawall,” Lucas said. A seawall is a giant concrete structure designed to blunt the force of a tidal wave and give the population of a city more time to evacuate. Lucas discovered that a concave-shaped seawall does the best job of minimizing damage to the city and redirecting the force of the wave back out to sea. His setup included a cross-section of a mock beach (including sand, gravel, and a seawall constructed of clay) and water which would be displaced to form a wave. “These walls can be life-saving, so it’s crucial to find the most effective design,” Lucas said.

Isadora M. ’22 conducted an experiment to discover how best to deter mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. “During the research phase, I discovered that female mosquitoes are actually attracted to fragrances that humans emit, and not the blood itself,” she said. According to Isa, mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide; mosquito repellent masks this fragrance. In her setup, mosquitoes and a fragrance were placed on either side of a black line. If mosquitoes crossed the black line, she concluded that they were attracted to the fragrance. If not, they were repelled by it. “There are so many variables to take into consideration when doing a project like this. For example, I only had one breed of mosquito, and it was pretty hard to keep them alive,” Isa said. At the time of the interview, Isa had yet to complete her experiments, but she did comment on the process: “This all came out of a conversation I had with my cousin about Zika. But the design, the experiment, everything was mine. It feels really good to step back and look at your work.”

Other students included Michael C. ’22, who attempted to discover at which speed an e-bike operated most efficiently; Grant G. ’22, who experimented on a self-built hydraulic, prosthetic arm to determine which fluids could lift the most weight; Zoe B. ’22 who tested different mulches to find out which most effectively prevented erosion; and Anjali L. ’22, who designed a water-free eco-friendly toilet, capable of incinerating human feces. She used compressed air to guide artificial feces to an incineration chamber, and said that the design could be used “in countries with little water or sewage infrastructure.” She plans on continuing this project, hoping to design a working model of the eco-friendly toilet.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of science fair is the ability of the students to step into something completely new and create a project from scratch. Each student creates their own experiment out of nothing, putting vast amounts of time and effort into the process. For now, these scientists get a well-deserved break. But soon, summer will be back — and a flurry of new scientists will be hard at work seeing projects take shape.

2016-2017 Seventh Grade Science Fair Projects Selected for the NMSEF

1st) Alexa A. — Different Fillers for Heating Pads

2nd) Liz P. — Microplastics Identified in Local Streams (microplastics are small particles of plastic that find their way into waterways. They come from consumer and beauty products that we wash down our drains)

3rd) Grant G. — Different Hydraulic Liquids Used in a Prosthetic Grip

Honorable Mentions:

Christopher H. — Different Types of Livestock “Poop” on Plant Growth
Ben A. — Magnetism and Humidity
Zoe B. — Mulch and Erosion
Michael C. — E-bike motors
Anjali I. — Poop on Incineration Rate
Isa M. — Mosquito Attraction to Different Fragrances
Laurel M. — Acrylic Versus Water
Mimi N. — Temperature on Lacrosse Ball Bounce Height
Eddie P. — Saltwater Concentration on Evaporation Rate
Florence S. — Varying Scoop Shape on Pick-up Success of a Robotic Arm
Andrew S. — Different Colored Lights on Plant Growth
George W. — Cyanobacterial Fertilizer on Germination
Skyler W. — Different Colored Roofs on Heating Effectiveness

2016-2017 Eighth Grade Science Fair Projects Selected for the NMSEF

1st) Arielle B. — Shade Balls: Save Water for less than 0.1 cent per Liter*
2nd) Kent P. — The Quest for the Hully Grail
3rd) Isabella G. — Top KNOTch

* — Arielle’s project was the junior reserve champion at the county-wide event in March.

Honorable Mentions:

Sarvesh A. — Light in the Night
Madeline B. — Toxic Sunscreen
Taylor C. — Turn It Up
Thomas C. — Breaking Bad
Luke F. — The Effect of Root Type on Erosion
Cassidy G. — Don’t Get Burned
Annika K. — Rough Air Ahead
Charles L. — Hydrogen and Oxygen: The Fuel of the Future!
Amelia L. — Terminating Termites
Amelia W. — Sunny Side Up
Linnea W. — Nanosilver Nuisance
Cameron Y. — Wheels of Change

2017 North Museum Science & Engineering Fair Auxiliary Award Winners

— Grant G.: Junior winner of the AMS International “Excellence in Materials Science and Engineering” Auxiliary Award.
— Lisa E., Anjali I., George W.: Winners of Broadcom Masters Auxiliary Awards.
— Isadora M.: Winner of the Creative Solutions to Lancaster County Problems Auxiliary Award.
— Kary F. — Senior winner of the Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories “Achievement in Analytical Chemistry” Auxiliary Award.
— Elizabeth P., Isadora M., Luke F.: First, second and third winners, respectively, of the Farm and Home Foundation of Lancaster County Auxiliary Awards.
— Calvin B.: Winner of the Intel Excellence in Computer Science Auxiliary Award.
— Elizabeth P.: Junior winner of the Izaak Walton League of America “Lancaster Chapter Environmental Science” Auxiliary Award.
— Florence S.: Winner of the Lancaster County Agriculture Council “Agricultural Innovator” Auxiliary Award.
— Elizabeth P., Arielle B.: Second and third place junior winners of the Lancaster County Conservation District Auxiliary Awards.
— Elizabeth P.: Winner of the NASA Earth Systems Science Auxiliary Award.
— Arielle B.: Winner of the NOAA “Taking the Pulse of the Planet” Auxiliary Award.
— Elizabeth P., Thomas C.: Junior and honorable mention winner of the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences Auxiliary Awards.
— Isadora M.: Junior winner of the Pennsylvania Specialty Pathology “Excellence in Medicine” Auxiliary Award.
— Grant G., Florence S., Cameron Y.: First and second place junior and honorable mention junior winners of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Auxiliary Awards.