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Striking Studies Spotted at Science Fair

Fascinating Research Projects at the 69th State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida

The 69th State Science and Engineering Fair (SSEF) of Florida was held from April 2 to 4 at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland. Students in middle school and high school from all across Florida participated to share their research projects and build networks with other aspiring students and professors. The projects were divided into 13 categories, showcasing a variety of personalized research interests.

Breaking It Down!

Chloe Hiver from Deerlake Middle School presented her project “Breaking It Down!” investigating home substances that best break down tissue paper. Her inspiration for this project came from a plumbing issue in her toilet, which led to the question of how to break down the accumulating tissue. After testing the pH levels of vinegar, bleach, brine and water, she put pieces of tissue paper into jars containing each substance and recorded the disintegration process. Her purpose was to determine if pH levels are associated with the tissue disintegration rate. The results revealed that bleach had the highest disintegration rate of approximately 95%. She also found that vinegar and brine, two substances with drastically different pH levels, reported similar disintegration rates. While this temporarily challenged her to draw a conclusion, she eventually decided to focus on the overall outcome rather than individual groups.

“It’s really nice [to be at the state science fair],” Hiver said. “It feels rewarding that I put a lot of effort into my project and I’m being rewarded by a fun two-day trip.”

Biodegradable Hydrogels Can Help to Conserve Water in Farming

Passionate about planting, Juanita Gomez from Dr. Mona Jain Middle School presented her project “Biodegradable Hydrogels Can Help to Conserve Water in Farming,” which compared two gels’ ability to absorb water. Her study found that between agar and agar combined with hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC), the latter absorbs more water. Taking the gels out of the petri dish required extreme care, so Gomez used a knife to circle around the dish and a spoon to take them out. She plans to pursue a continuation project next year by making HEC its own hydrogel rather than a combination with agar.

“[My favorite part about the science fair is] interviewing with the judges and staying overnight in a hotel,” Gomez said. “Science fair is the best thing here.”

Sticky Slippery Substances Sliding

Alex Hysell, also from Dr. Mona Jain Middle School, presented his project “Sticky Slippery Substances Sliding,” which tested the effect of various household lubricants on friction. His control group was no substance, and the experimental groups were toothpaste, peanut butter, shaving cream, butter, syrup, water, vegetable oil, hand sanitizer and soap. While his hypothesis stated that syrup would be least effective in preventing friction and butter would be the most effective, the results showed that syrup was surprisingly the most effective and peanut butter was the least effective. Hysell plans to add the amount and variety of lubricants tested for a continuation project.

“I did not expect to get here as a sixth-grader,” Hysell said. “I’m here for the top 10.  I think I crushed it with the judges. I actually enjoyed talking to the people that were judging me because they were very interested and giving me ideas for next year.”

The Effect of Second Guessing on Academic Performance

Joshua Inocencio from St. Paul’s Catholic School-Riverside presented his project “The Effect of Second Guessing on Academic Performance.” In his study, he had students from third to 12th grade take a test in reading and math, marking their original answers in black and indicating any changes to their answers in blue. Even though teachers usually tell students to go with their gut instinct, Inocencio found that second guessing increased students’ academic performance. Additionally, those who indicated positive feelings about their second guess tended to demonstrate an increase in their scores, while those who indicated the opposite tended to demonstrate a decrease in their scores.

“I really like looking at the projects on the set-up day and seeing how these kids who are also in high school are developing some amazing projects and ideas,” Inocencio said. “There are also judges who are open to new ideas, and I really like seeing that.”

Can Plasma Production Be Affordably Achieved?

Declan Rhodes from Rickards High School presented his project “Can Plasma Production Be Affordably Achieved?” As a naturally driven experimentalist in his backyard, Rhodes was contacting metals to produce explosive oxyhydrogen. Upon discovering a blue flash, which he guessed was originating from a plasma — a state of matter characterized by charged particles with ions and electrons — he started looking for affordable options to create a greater plasma. Although Rhodes limited his budget to $260 this year, he plans to expand his research next year and purchase a vacuum that sucks elements to track pure elements. 

“[My inspiration for this project was] basically my mistake in electrolysis, accidentally connecting the two electrodes, and then not knowing what happened – just the want to know more of what I was doing and how can I do it better,” Rhodes said.

Bilingual vs Monolingual: Who Has the Most Cognitive Control?

A fluent English and Spanish speaker, Nadia Cardoso from Wildwood High School presented her project “Bilingual vs Monolingual: Who Has the Most Cognitive Control?” To measure cognitive control, Cardoso conducted a stoop test among bilingual and monolingual participants. For example, when the word “yellow” was written in green, participants had to recognize the correct color to pass the test. After running three trials, it was revealed that bilinguals had an overall 74% pass rate, whereas monolinguals only had 54%. This supported her hypothesis that bilinguals generally have higher cognitive control.

“It’s a great honor to be in the state science fair just because I’m surrounded by a bunch of young individuals with great minds,” Cardoso said. “My favorite part is talking to different students around me, getting to know them, looking at different projects and seeing how different minds were.”

Photos by Leah Song


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