A HEAD START ON THE SCIENCE FAIR THIS YEAR
Instead of waiting until the week before science fair projects are due later this year to try and come up with a project, consider a couple of suggestions as school starts. The following two are ones I know can be successfully completed and will be educational for the student. I'm not sure either has a chance of winning a science fair in the computer technology age, but either would be interesting and both relate to international environmental issues: the fossil fuel crisis and biodiversity.
The fossil fuel hypothesis: Shoppers driving into a mall would save both time and energy by selecting the closest readily available parking slot when they enter the parking lot rather than driving around looking or waiting for one closer to the building.
The premise: We can all think of examples where both gas and time are wasted by people driving around waiting for a place near the store of their choice, while passing up open slots a few spaces farther away. The odds favor your getting into the store faster if you take a spot that you know is available and walk a few extra feet, instead of looking for that prime spot.
The test and expectations: Stand in front of a mall during a busy time, watch a car come in, and use a stopwatch to time how long it takes a driver to park. Record your statistics for a couple of hours--where people park; how long it takes them to get to the front door. The hypothesis is that drivers who take a spot immediately, even though it is near the back, will on average get to the front door faster, sometimes while the searchers are still driving around. If this turns out to be true, they not only save more time but use less gas and get more exercise. By going to a mall for a few days, a student can get several dozen data points, support or refute a hypothesis, and produce a science fair project that tells people something useful. Embellish the project by calculating how much extra gas the searchers use.
The biodiversity hypothesis: Plants and animals will live on any available space if given enough time, even on a vertical wall.
The premise: Arnold Darlington, in his book Ecology of Walls (1981, Heinemann Educational Books, London) claims that walls comprise more than 10 percent of the area habitable by plants and animals in a city. Walls are all around us, providing habitats for many species. Included would be garden walls, the sides of houses and sheds, even the sides of a big oak tree, which is just a natural wall.
The test and expectations: Sample a variety of walls and record what lives on them. Keep a record of the variables that could affect the composition of species and the success of different kinds of organisms. Walls with horizontal sections have shelf space and are more likely to collect dirt and debris where seeds can root. Compass direction could matter for some species. Moss is more likely to grow on the north side of a wall. The material, porosity, and composition of the wall and the history of human alteration are major influences on what might live on a particular wall. One of the most influential factors determining the vegetative character of walls is age.
Algae and lichens are usually the first pioneers to become established. Vines rooted at the base may climb up, and shrubs and trees may even grow from crumbling walls. Animals also make their homes on walls. Lizards and treefrogs, spiders and millipedes, and a variety of insects can be found on walls. The exercise will be revealing about how much life is all around us if you just take a careful look.
I am suggesting these projects now, students (and their parents) will
have ample time to procrastinate until two weeks before they are due and
still get them completed. But imagine the data set a student who starts
now could accumulate to make the point that driving around looking for
parking places is wasteful or that walls are important to the biodiversity
of an area.