Young scientists veer towards the practical

Governor Martyn Roper opened Saturday's science fair where he met some of the students, including Christopher Seerattan, left, and Finlay Dacker, of First Baptist Christian School, who were awarded a prize for their project on the 'Amazing Effects of Fish Poop'. - Photo: Rotary Central

There was the requisite baking soda volcano. But there was also a study on the ‘Amazing Effects of Fish Poop,’ a survey of jellyfish populations, a look at how quickly biodegradable utensils break down, data gathered on which Cayman beach has the cleanest sand, and an incubator decorated as a chicken, where lots of little girls gathered to watch chicks hatch from a tray of eggs.

The Rotary Central Science Fair, which was held Saturday at Cayman International School, featured 74 projects by 112 students. This was the fair’s 13th year.

Science fair chairwoman Ally Speirs said she remembers the beginning.

“I was in the first science fair,” Speirs said. “I tracked the digestive system of a snake and I brought a live snake to the fair.”

She said the overall sophistication of projects has risen since the early years.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “The projects I’ve seen are so impressive.”

First place winners in four categories received prizes of $1,500. Other prizes included tablets and phones.

Michael Marzouca, 13, and Harrison Richards, 14, developed a computer code for their project that modelled the spread of an airborne virus. Their objective was to determine the best ways people could deter that spread. They looked at covering one’s mouth during a sneeze, hand washing, wearing gloves or using hand sanitiser.

“We hypothesised that covering your face when you sneeze would have the greatest effect,” said Harrison.

A sneeze can contaminate a volume of up to 384 cubic feet, Harrison said.

It turned out, based on the computer model, which Michael wrote in Java code, that their hypothesis was wrong.

“We found that washing your hands was one of the most effective [methods],” Harrison said. The only problem, he added, was “you have to wash your hands for 56 seconds”.

This chicken egg incubator proved a popular exhibit, as children gathered around to watch the eggs hatch. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Michael said he got the idea for the project after seeing so many people get sick from the flu virus this winter.

Many of the projects at the fair had a similar practical side.

Esme Claybourn, 8, of Cayman Prep, enlisted three friends to look at whether plastic-like products promoted as biodegradable actually decompose after use.

“I got the idea from finding a credit card in the mud from 1973,” Esme said. “We found out that these biodegradable products actually break down.”

The team placed a variety of items in a long plastic trough filled with dirt and let them sit. They watered the dirt daily and added some composting material. The four girls said they plan to change their own use based on the study, and hope others will too.

“We’re going to use more biodegradable things in the school and try not to throw away so much plastic,” said Jaicee Seymour, 8.

“We can improve things if we get companies to use more biodegradable products and by doing beach and water clean-ups,” Esme added.

Alida Dzaghgouni, 11, of Montessori by the Sea, looked at the impact of sunscreens on coral.

Last year, she said, “we had 2.8 million tourists.” If each one had used sunscreens that were not reef friendly and gone into the water, as much as 2,500 kg of material could have gone into the ocean, Alida said.

As part of her project, she’s encouraging stores to carry more reef-friendly sunscreens. Hurley’s market sent her an email saying they were willing to put more signage on their shelves to help customers identify which sunscreens are reef friendly.

“This is just another problem we should deal with,” Alida said. “We should deal with it now, because it’s just going to get worse.”

Speirs said the earth sciences have come to dominate the science fair in recent years, as students focus more on ecological issues. That change has been student driven. Rotary, and the other sponsors of the science fair, are just interested in piquing students’ interest.

“We want to get students involved in science,” she said. The fair “shows how science can be fun”.

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