Junior Scientists

May 22, 2003
Junior Scientists
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
Students from St. Margaret’s School take home awards at the Greater Syracuse Science Fair

Some students might find mold particularly gross. But fifth grader Elizabeth Hickman from St. Margaret’s School in Mattydale was interested in learning how mold grows for her class science project. And her fondness for fungus paid off, as she was one of the three bright young scientists from the school who were chosen as recipients of the Discovery Young Scientist Award at the Greater Syracuse Science Fair on April 6, held at the OnCenter.

Elizabeth and her peers Nicholas Blaney and Patrick McGlynn were chosen from over 100 students throughout Syracuse to receive top honors at the competition, organized by the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology. The three young scientists will go on to compete with about 2,500 students from across the country during the second round of the national competition. From these entries, 400 semi-finalists will be chosen in July who will then be narrowed down again in September to 40 finalists. All finalists will receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. in October to compete in the Discovery Young Scientist Challenge.

The students began their projects back in December as part of an annual assignment that science teacher Janet Lansing gives to her fifth and sixth grade science classes. Students have three months to brainstorm and research a topic of their choice, said Lansing. Afterwards, they give reports in front of the entire school and take questions from their peers. Lansing noted that she has found that allowing the students to choose their own topic is a great learning experience and allows them to get involved in something that intrigues them. “I would rather have students research a topic that excites them than one that they have no interest in,” said Lansing, who has been teaching science at St. Margaret’s since 1981. “This way, their projects tend to reflect the enthusiasm they have for the subject.”

Nicholas, also a fifth grader, said that he came up with his topic “What Type of Pain Reliever Dissolves Faster: Generic or Trade (name brand)” after watching all the advertisements claiming that one pain reliever works faster than another. “So many brands say in commercials that they are the best. I wanted to get to the bottom of it,” Nicholas said. To simulate the digestive process, Nicholas dissolved several brands of pain relievers, including Tylenol, Motrin and Ibuprofen, in 97-degree hydrochloric acid. He performed the experiment on the various medicines three times each, clocking the results. Those people who prefer the name brands will be happy to know that Nicolas discovered they digest faster than generic brands –– something that Nicolas pointed out is valuable information.

“I believe that what I learned in my experiments could benefit hospitals because if they knew what medicine worked the fastest they could treat patients quicker and see more people,” Nicholas said. Lansing said that while she encouraged all the fifth and sixth graders to bring their projects to the Greater Syracuse Science Fair, it was not a requirement. “I was very proud of what every student in the class accomplished,” said Lansing. “They put a lot of effort into their projects and I wanted each of them to have the opportunity to present at the fair, but it was their decision.” Patrick, a fifth grader, said that he wanted to attend the fair and see if his project on “How the Size and Shape of Nerve Cells Affect Their Function” would place. At the competition, he said that the judges examined his exhibit, reviewed his written report, listened to his oral presentation and asked him questions. He said, however, that all the research he did on his topic and all the practice Lansing gave their class when they presented in front of the school prepared him for the competition.

“When the judges came around and asked me questions, it wasn’t very hard. Everything that we did at school was good practice,” Patrick said. Lansing said that she was pleasantly surprised upon hearing that the winning students were all fifth graders. “These students were competing against students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades,” she noted. “For them to walk away with the Discovery Award is fantastic.” Three other students from St. Margaret’s also received honors in the competition. Sixth grader Ross Taylor and fifth graders Remi Maggio and Renee Ruscitto took home honors for their projects on “The Effect of Black and White Lights,” “How Soda Affects Your Teeth” and “Crystals,” respectively.

According to Elizabeth, she is already brainstorming ideas for next year’s science fair. Although she isn’t sure exactly what she would like to do, she does know that she won’t be doing a project that takes as long as the tedious process of watching mold grow. “I do not want to do mold again,” said Elizabeth. “It takes a really long time for it to grow.”

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