The scientific method: Cullman County students compete in annual science fair

Mar. 18—HANCEVILLE — How much salt would there need to be in the ocean before an egg would be able to float? Do dogs favor one color over another? Can the music a person listens to affect their heartbeat? What is considered to be the G.O.A.T. of all sports drinks? These — along with many other of life's greatest mysteries — were the questions asked and answered by Cullman County School students in this year's annual County Science Fair.

Each year the competition consists of two categories, each with their own divisions based on grade levels. Elementary students in grades K-3 are given a broad theme for a poster contest that changes each year and those in fourth grade and above are able to choose and present a project of their choosing — as long as the material is deemed age appropriate.

Participation in the project division is not required and Good Hope High School Science Teacher Carol Cline — who heads the competition's organization each year — said the district did begin to notice a lack of participation in the years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic. She said once students began to settle back into the routine of returning to school; however, interest has been steadily increasing.

"We had a dip right before COVID and then right after COVID we had another dip because a lot of schools weren't able to participate. But, this year we've had more entries than we've had in the past five years," Cline said.

Cline said that even the students who might enter a project with a bit of hesitation will often continue entering with added enthusiasm each following year — and she has even had students approach her after graduating from college thanking her for encouraging the experience. She credits this — at least in part — to the competition being unique in that students are judged on both scientific merit and creativity, giving students who have a variety of interest levels to have an equal playing field.

The majority of competitors don't require any encouragement to participate and do so voluntarily for a variety of reasons.

Some choose projects based on the experiences they have had watching their parents. Holly Pond Middle School student Michael Winger took home the award for best display in the middle school division for his project about how Ventricular Septal Defects (VSD) can effect a person's heart. Winger said he chose this as the subject for his project after learning that his mother had been born with VSD before having the condition surgically repaired when she was a year old.

Good Hope Elementary Student Maggie Phillips said her father, Eric Phillips, is an electrician by trade and she began to develop a fascination with electricity because of him. In her project — which was awarded both Best Display and Overall Winner in the Elementary Division — Maggie explains how photocells are used to turn lights on and off based on the amount of sunlight they are able to detect.

Good Hope sophomore Emma Elliot said this was her first year entering the science fair and rather than present a new question, she chose to disprove a theory from one of histories greatest scientific minds. Elliot said she had also been skeptical of Leonardi Da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man theory," which says the human body is perfectly proportional. By measuring the arm-spans of her family members and comparing them to their overall heights, Seymore was able to conclude her suspicions were correct and be named 3rd Best Display and Best in Anatomy in the High School Division.

"Almost everyone — actually 10 out of the 11 people — had arm-spans that were different from their height. Only one person in my family were the same, and she's 3," Elliot said.

Some students simply chose their projects based on problems they were experiencing in their everyday lives. Good Hope Middle School Student Kaely Seymore was awarded 5th place overall for her project asking whether using porcelain or plastic insulators on an electric fence would be more effective at keeping her family's cows inside their pasture.

"We will always get calls saying our fence is down and our cows are out at like twelve o'clock at night. So, that's why I decided to test if it matters what kind of insulator you use," Seymore said.

Seymore tested each type of insulator by attaching 100 foot of wire to a nail and used an ohmmeter to determine if there was a substantial difference in the wire's resistance.

Seymore didn't initially share the results of her experiment but in the moments before the award ceremony began she seemed to imply that she had been able to achieve some level of success from her findings and that she was able to get a full night's rest.

"Nope, we didn't have any cows get out last night," Seymore said.