The youngest scientists in Cottonwood have a lot on their minds.
Which deflates faster, a balloon filled with helium or a balloon filled with air?
Which apple turns brown faster when exposed to the open air, Granny Smith or Red Delicious?
Which snack foods do people prefer, brand names or generic?
“It’s all science,” Kelli Rhoda, Cottonwood Elementary School teacher and Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District science committee member, said. “Everything is science.”
Rhoda made the observation as she and other members of the committee set up dozens of tables with three-panel cardboard displays created by fifth- and seventh-grade students who advanced from science fair competitions at each of their schools to the district level.
Each display proposed a hypothesis, explained how it was tested and declared whether it was correct. Colorful, creative and frequently interesting, scores of science projects from chemistry to consumer science filled the gym at Clemenceau School.
Judging was under way Tuesday, Feb. 23. Students competed for first, second, third and fourth place at each grade level in each category of science, Rhoda said.
In addition, overall winners from the fifth-grade class and the seventh-grade class are also determined. The fifth-grade winner receives the Dylan Award, named for a young student at Oak Creek School who loved science but died at a very young age.
As a 5-year-old, the boy, whose last name remains anonymous, conceived an experiment to test whether seeds could grow on several different media, from popcorn to Play-Doh.
Recalling the youngster’s promise brought tears to the eyes of Denise Stearley, the Oak Creek School nurse who cared for Dylan before he died. Stearley, who also serves on the district’s science committee, was helping set up displays.
“His original ideas in science won awards,” Stearley said.
“Emory University invited him to show off what he did.”
Last year’s Dylan Award winner tested water samples from several different fast food restaurants, Rhoda said. All proved to contain bacteria, but the water from one restaurant in particular grew such an impressive mass of green bacteria, the judges had to take notice, she said.
Bacteria-laden petri dishes, rotted apples and the like are not allowed at the fair, COCSD Science Manager Keith Steele said, but that rarely dampens the spirits of the competitors.
“These teachers have really just done an outstanding job inspiring these kids to take an idea and run with it,” Steele said. “They guide, but don’t walk them through the projects.”