Students showcase science savvy: At Houghtaling Elementary School science fair

Fifth-grade student Natalie Klose stands for a portrait next to her science project titled “What's in your drinking water?” on May 8 during a science fair at Houghtaling Elementary School. Klose tested city water, Safeway Refreshe and San Pellegrino water. She also tested her Berkey home water filter, which provided pure water results. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

There was a buzz filling the Houghtaling Elementary School library from experimenting children, curious family members and proud students at a science fair on the evening of May 8.

According to school staff, Houghtaling has held the only science fair in the school district in 10 years.

The science fair projects were judged Tuesday by volunteers with science-based backgrounds such as  the forestry and fishery industries, and prizes were donated by local businesses.

Projects were judged on a rubric in which students could earn points for such things as creativity, skill, clarity, visual impact, hypothesis, research and conclusion.

Projects were each organized onto tri-fold presentation boards with information attached, such as a title, a question to be answered, a hypothesis, a typed research paper, materials used, steps and procedures, graphs, resources, materials, results and a conclusion. Sitting on the tables in front of the boards were many of the materials used in the projects.

Visitors strolled among the tables, reading the boards and examining the materials. In the center of the room, boards were set up with materials and scientific challenges for visitors to explore and experiment.

At one such station, Point Higgins Elementary School second-grader Mia Rowser experimented with using a dropper to add water to a penny. She dried the penny, then laid it on the provided baking pan and proceeded to add seven drops before the water spilled over the sides.

“When I first did it, it fit 12,” she said, adding that 12 was more than she’d expected.

Houghtaling fifth grader Ayla Langley stood by her board, titled “Crystal Radio.”

The question she’d answered in her science project was, “Will a sink work better than a wooden table, wall and a door to get a better frequency?”

Her hypothesis stated, “I think a sink will work better than the others, because I think sound waves bounce off and then you tune the tuner.”

She displayed a crystal radio she’d built from a kit, with a copper-wire wrapped cylinder on a platform, a wire that channeled sound to an earphone and two pickup wires to touch to surfaces to check for conductivity.

When asked how she proceeded with her experiments, she said she tried out each surface to see which one picked up sound the best.

She said her hypothesis had not been correct.

“It was actually the wooden table, because it was flatter and able to pick it up more, because it would hit every part on the table, but not on every part of the sink,” she said.

She said it took about an hour to do the testing, but that wasn’t the most challenging aspect of the project.

She pointed to a small wire on the side of the cylinder’s support.

“This little thing right here — the diode ... sees how much energy or frequency it picks up,” she said. She added, “It was very fragile. If that thing broke, it was the end of the line for me.”

The rest of the kit wasn’t much easier. She said the instructions were unclear on how to attach many of the nuts and bolts, as well.

This was Ayla’s second science fair. Last year, she tested the question, “Which is the grossest: an earwig, a spider, a worm, or a poisonous caterpillar?”

She’d polled her classmates and proved that the earwig was definitely the grossest, based on facts that Ayla had researched and provided for them.

Sixth-grader James Connelly stood near his board titled “Breaking Bridges.” Two toothpick bridges about a foot long each sat on the table in front of the board, each bearing the scars of heavy experimenting.

“I was looking through books with my dad, and we just saw the idea to make bridges and see which one would hold the most weight,” he said.

Photos attached to his board illustrated how he’d hung a bucket by a string handle from the bridges so he could gradually add weight to test the bridges’ strength.

“The one with more support on the squares had the most strength against weight instead of the one with only four squares,” he said.

This was James’ fourth year entering the Houghtaling science fair, he said, and this year was his favorite for a couple of reasons.

“I did get first place in it,” he said, grinning, adding also that, “It was just fun to make.”

Fifth grader Natalie Klose stood near her board, titled “What’s in Your Drinking Water?”

A second-place ribbon hung at the top of the board. The question printed on the board was “Which water has the most contaminants? Safeway Refreshe water, San Pellegrino, city water or Berkey filtered water?”

“I tested the different stuff that was in the water,” she said.

She held up the container of test strips she said she’d used on the different waters she’d tested, and said the substances they revealed included total hardness, chlorine, copper, iron, lead, nitrate and alkalinity.

“It was cool,” she said.

Natalie’s mother, Pam Klose, who stood nearby, said that Natalie was inspired to test different water sources by her curiosity about their home Berkey water filter, and pondering how well it was working.

As part of her research efforts, they reached out to Ketchikan Public Utilities Assistant Water Division Manager Seth Brakke. He provided her with a variety of materials about the city’s water system, Pam Klose said.

When Natalie was asked if there were any surprises in the test results, she said there were a few, such as the bottled San Pellegrino brand, had the highest hardness numbers.

“It goes in the ground, and then all the minerals come into the water, and it sits there for like, 30 years, and then they take it out and it already has minerals in it,” she said she’s learned.

Her favorite part of her project was the core work.

“I like the part where I found out what was in the water by testing it,” she said, and Pam Klose added that they also tested the taste of all of the waters except the city water.

The most difficult part of her project was the research, Natalie said, “because you have to write a little bit about all the waters.”

Pam Klose confirmed that the writing took many hours.

The most practical thing Natalie learned was that she was not interested in drinking unfiltered city water.

“You can tell by the smell that this has chlorine in it, too,” Natalie said as she held up the bottle of city water and sniffed.

The conclusion posted on her board was that city water was the only one of her test waters that had free chlorine, chlorine and nitrates. Refreshe water had the least hardness, and water out of the Berkey filter was the only water that did not contain copper.

Other project boards addressed experiments that tested questions such as, “Which algorithm will allow me to solve my Rubik’s Cube fastest?” “What will allow me to better hear in my head: plastic fork, metal spoon, wooden dowel?” and “How will chocolate, Twizzlers, Airheads and gummy worms react to temperature changes?”

Ayla Langley summed up the real heart of working on a science fair project.

“The most fun part,” she said, “was spending quality time with my family while doing this, and it helped us bond even more; but also, the science behind doing this.”