To “nerve-wracking” and “exciting” — their words for what it felt like to compete in a regional science fair — Mary Lynn Dawson and Lyndsay Williams can add “confidence building.”
Not only did the two Woodington Middle School seventh graders take first prize in the biotechnical category of the junior division (grades 6-8), but their project — “Which Liquid Is Best for the Growth and ph level of an Aralia” — was also chosen as the best biotechnical project at the fair, which included high school and elementary division entries.
Winning the Sartorius Stedim Biotechnology Award for the Excellent Biotechnology Research Project carried with it a cash prize. “We split $180,” Mary Lynn said.
Quite a haul for a team with no experience in science fairs. Their project had won first-place in the middle school division of the Lenoir County Science Fair in January, but traveling to UNC-Pembroke in Lumberton for the Sandhills Regional Science and Engineering Fair felt like another matter altogether.
“I knew there would be more competition,” Lyndsay said. “There were a lot more people, and I was a little worried theirs would be better.”
Not to worry. “They did a wonderful job with their project,” Yvonne Hardy, their science teacher, said. “They are outstanding students in my classroom and in our school.”
The project grew out of the girls’ interest in gardening. “We like to grow plants, we both have gardens, but we don’t have the greenest thumb,” Mary Lynn said. “So we decided we should try some different liquids on a plant and see which one made it healthy.”
For six weeks they watered aralia plants with six different liquids — water, tea (unsweetened), soda, sports drink, energy drink and vitamin water — and tracked the plants’ growth and changes in their ph levels.
“We thought that water would do the best because that’s what we knew would work,” Mary Lynn said. “We were wrong. Water and tea both did the best.”
The energy drink finished dead last. “It hopped the plant up and all that sugar from the energy drink wilted the plant,” Lindsay said.
The results matter less than the process, according to Hardy. “The good thing about a science fair project is that students get to use a lot of skills and it gives them a chance to experience the scientific method from hypotheses to conclusion.”
Mary Lynn and Lyndsay will join Frink Middle School sixth grader Tyler Sears as LCPS’s representatives at the state science fair March 25 at Meredith College in Raleigh. Tyler won a first-place medal for his earth/environmental science project Feb. 11 at the Southeast Regional Science and Engineering Fair, the region in which LCPS students typically compete. Because of a conflict with ACT testing, however, Mary Lynn and Lyndsay were allowed to compete in the Sandhills Regional, held Feb. 18.
Woodington qualified nine students for competition at the regional level, the most of any school in the district. “Our entire school participated in science fair this year,” Hardy said. “One of the things we try to do is let the students know the expectations, give them examples and encourage them to do challenging projects.”