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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Uggy Blob, Meringue, and Solar Energy

What happens when you soak a raw egg in vinegar?

Which kind of bowl will let you make meringue 'peak' faster?

What angle on a solar panel will yield the greatest current from a stationary light source?

These are examples of the varied questions the young scientists of Saint Charles School 5th – 8th grades explored for their annual science fair. Will some of these students become renowned scientists, like Benoit Mandelbrot, who developed the fractal – the study of roughness of surfaces?

The Junior Academy of the Washington Academy of Science, provides scientists and other professionals to judge science fair projects at Saint Charles School and other schools in the DMV area.

I was fortunate to be one of the judges for this event and found the students to be eager to present their finding, quite knowledgeable about their experiments and findings, and how their experiment fits into a bigger context of science. In fact, many of the student scientists, after being judged, would seek out additional judges to view their project display so they could present their findings yet again – and they did so with zeal and enthusiasm.

To an individual, the students had fun doing the projects and offered thoughts about how they could improve it next time to learn more. Presenters for projects about behavioral science showed a model of the brain and explained (in rather technical terms) which area of the brain was involved in the experiment and what functions it controls in the person.

As always, I learned much from the students – about the area of inquiry, as well as how they approached the experiments. In addition, the poise and energy of these young scientists is impressive (and much different from what I recall of myself and my classmates at these ages).

Answers to the opening questions:

What happens to an egg soaked in vinegar – over about 4-7 days, vinegar will dissolve the hard egg shell – which is made of calcium carbonate - to an uggy blob (not a scientific term), leaving the inner membrane to contain the egg white and yoke unharmed. Even without the shell, the remaining 9 other components of the egg are intact and keep the yoke safe and protected.

What kind of bowl is fastest to make meringue 'peak' – a chilled copper bowl is about four times faster than a chilled plastic bowl (temperature is a key element to successful meringue, binding the ingredients as they are agitated, and the copper holds the chill better than other materials).

What angle of the solar panel yields the greatest current from a fixed light source: The greatest current output was when the panel was at 90 degrees to the fixed light bulb. The student explained that the light source struck the panel sensors with the greatest intensity when it was bathed from directly above instead of washing the panel on an angle where the intensity diminishes as it spread out on the horizontal axis.

The kids had fun and learned from the judges; the judges enjoyed hearing from the kids what they had found and learned from them as well – perhaps a new scientist or two may evolve from talking with experienced scientists.

Check out the Junior Academy for additional stories of young scientist accomplishment.

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