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Health & Science

Fruit Flies, Chicken Nuggets And Acid: Tales From The Houston Science Fair

Houston has an upstream supply problem. But it's a people problem, not a petrochemical one. To put it simply, not enough kids here are studying math and science, forcing businesses here to import qualified people. One way educators try to promote interest in science is the science fair.


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The young chemists, biologists and mathematicians huddled on folding chairs in front of their posters.

When judges approached, they rose quickly to their feet and tossed aside their phones, ready to present their hypotheses and results.

“These are the best of the best. These are outstanding kids, brilliant kids.”

Terri Berry is a science coordinator for Clear Creek school district.

“For us it’s kind of our science geek competition.”

Some of those science geeks were researching very interesting questions.

Which baseball bats work best: aluminum or maple?

Lucy Stinn
Lucy Stinn, a ninth grader from Magnolia High School, in front of her project on dissolving hard water deposits.

How does synthetic charcoal help with agriculture?

Which brand of chicken nuggets digest the fastest?

Lucy Stinn is a ninth grader from Magnolia High School. She tackled the problem of mineral build-up from hard water.

“Hard water is actually a very big problem. We don’t hear much about it. It can lead to industrial problems with pipes that are pumping water through it 24 hours a day and it can also cause problems in our everyday household.”

Stinn analyzed three types of acid to determine which would best dissolve hard water deposits.

Tiffany Loggins is a senior in the Conroe school district.

Her idea was to expose fruit flies to ultraviolet radiation, to see if their offspring had any mutations. 

“I took them to a Darque Tan and tanned them in a level 1 tanning bed.”

No, she did not tell Darque Tan what she was doing.  Yes, she did get results, just not the ones she expected.

“Unfortunately after I tested them, groups 2 through 5 which were under the tanning bed, all of them died. Every single fruit fly.”

The control group lived however, so Loggins concluded that the radiation exposure was simply too much.

The executive director of the science fair is University of Houston engineering professor Bonnie Dunbar.

Dunbar is a retired astronaut, and now directs the university’s efforts to expand STEM education, STEM standing for science, technology, engineering and math.  

Dunbar says science fairs don’t just get kids excited about science, they also force them to learn about experimental design.

She hopes the Houston fair, which draws from 22 counties, will help draw more local students to STEM careers, so employers don’t have to look outside of Texas to fill their jobs.

“If you look at the Houston work force, only a third of our STEM jobs are filled with graduates from Texas, a third are filled by graduates from other states, and a third are filled by graduates from other countries.”

This year’s fair had more than 1200 students.

Some will go on to the state fair and some of the big winners will go straight to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.