Science Fair Savvy: World Water Monitoring Day is Sept. 18, 2010!

Got water?

If you are looking for a good science fair project idea or perhaps an idea to do with your Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop, check out World Water Monitoring Day!

“Green” projects are all the rage these days at science fairs.  Monitoring the water quality of a local stream or pond near you is a great way to jump into the world of environmental science.  This website collects data from students all over the world who are collecting data in their area.  So your data becomes part of an actual international project!  They have kits you can order, instructions, background info….basically everything you could need to get started.  (Note to Parental Units: this means less science fair stress!) It’s a great source of inspiration for science fair project ideas as well.  This gets kids experience with field work as well as lab work so it’s a great opportunity for kids who want to a career in environmental science one day.

Enjoy and I hope you all are enjoying your last days of summer or having a successful start to the school year!


Science Fair Savvy: It’s that time! :/

Okay, I know, school hasn’t started yet!!  But it will be here soon so time for some science fair tips!

First, I have a confession: When I was in 10th grade, I was put into an honors biology class and I choose to switch down to the regular “academic” biology class just to avoid doing a science fair project.  My one from the previous year didn’t go so well to say the least and I just didn’t want to mess with that.  Now here I am basically doing experiments every day at work so I guess I got over it and my love of the lab won out!  I am sure I am not the only one to feel the same way as i did back then.  These things can be tough on everyone, I hear the parental units come to fear this time as well.  I’m sure getting the kids to just do homework is one thing but facing a daunting months long process culminating in a big grade at the end, possible science fair spot, and throw in the whole “gotta get into college!” thing and it just seems that science fair = stress for everyone. 

I guess a lot has to do with the way that the whole thing starts off.  Usually, the big science fair is always for the same grade level so you know that if you hit 9th grade or whatever it is your school does, you know it’s a’coming.  So you get to school the first day and the teacher says pick a topic, here is a big packet of rules and have your topic picked and forms filled out by Friday.  In my opinion, picking the topic is the hardest part!!!  So thinking about it now in the last few weeks of summer is a good idea. 

Here are some ideas for getting started:

  • What do you like?  Once you pick something, google/wiki it to learn more and narrow down your topic.
  • Is this project idea feasible?  What does it require in terms of time, oversight, commitment, materials….most importantly BE REALISTIC!  If you know your not up for keeping plants alive for three months, that’s fine, just move on to another idea!
  • Are there any resources you reach out to for help?  These can be local colleges, nature centers, water utilities, health departments–look locally and you’ll probably find people who are willing to help!
  • Don’t be a hero!  (You can save that for college.)  You don’t need to have the most complicated experiment to succeed.  A project that is clearly defined and simple to understand will more impressive. 
  • The projects that don’t work out are the ones that don’t seem don’t interest you and don’t have focus.  If the project isn’t focused, you won’t be focused and you’ll be struggling to complete it.
  • Don’t worry about the project working perfectly.  Learning to follow the scientific method is the most important lesson of a science fair project.  (You can say this to your teacher, they’ll probably be impressed.)

So good luck with the topic search!  Next time on Science Fair Savvy:  The Joys of a Good Hypothesis.  Stay Tuned!

Coming up Friday-Louis Pasteur and the Scientific Advancements of 19th Century France!  I bet y’all can’t wait for that, huh?!

The Discovery of the Neutrino

The answer to missing energy from radioactive decay and ninety percent of the universe’s mass may be found in a tiny particle called the neutrino.  The neutrino is a tiny, elementary particle.  It could explain the structure of the universe.  The following defines the neutrino and explains its discovery.

Neutrinos are reported to be very common.  They are believed to be produced during radioactive decay in the “Big Bang”.  There are three different types of neutrinos:  electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos and tau neutrinos.  There is also an antimatter form called antineutrinos. 

A neutrino is so small that it cannot be seen by almost all instruments.  One could go through the Earth as if it was no more than a cloud.  An estimated sixty million neutrinos pass through each square centimeter of the Earth’s surface.  There are approximately one billion neutrinos for every proton in space. 

The neutrino was first proposed in 1930 by Wolfgang Pauli.  He said that this new particle could explain an energy discrepancy in some experiments.  According to Pauli, every time nucleuses under goes beta decay, the neutrino is emitted.  It then leaves carrying off a piece of the energy. 

Pauli thought of his idea as a “desperate remedy.”  The charge-less neutron was discovered in 1932.  This encouraged Pauli to publish his idea.  A physicist named Enrico Fermi was the one to name it neutrino which is Italian for “little neutral one.”  Many physicists found the neutrino hard to believe.  It had almost no mass and no charge.  It was merely a speck of energy from a radioactive atom.  Proving Pauli’s idea would be very difficult. 

In 1956, Clyde Cowan and Fredrick Reines proved the existence of the neutrino.  They called their experiment Project Poltergeist.  They performed it at a South Carolina nuclear power plant.  They produced trillions of neutrinos in a reactor’s core.  The neutrinos they went through a ten ton detector.  The neutrinos were detected by the flecks of radiation left behind.  This entire process took more than three years but it still did not prove neutrinos had mass. 

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory believe they can show the neutrino has mass.  They believe that neutrinos change into other types of neutrinos while on rout from the sun to the Earth.  This process is called oscillation and for it to occur the particles must have mass. 

The scientists’ experiment which took place at Los Alamos took place in 1993, involved catching the neutrinos while oscillating.  The produced a beam of protons with a particle accelerator.  The beam produced all three types of neutrinos.  It was aimed at a container of water surrounded by a copper and steel shield.  A Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) was set up thirty meters away.  The LSND is a tank filled with mineral oil and chemicals and lined with 1,220 phototubes.  This detected the produced signal when the neutrinos oscillated into antineutrinos. 

The experiment detected signals from eight antineutrinos.  This proves that the neutrinos did oscillate and thus did have mass.  The mass is estimated at 0.5 to 5 electron volts (eV).

There may be a substantial amount of neutrinos in the universe.  About ninety percent of the universes’ mass is immeasurable. Perhaps the findings of Pauli and the scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have found the particles that make up the missing mass. 


Bartrisiak, M.  Through a Universe Darkly.  New York:  Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1993.

Morris, R.  The edges of Science.  New York:  Prentice Hall Press, 1990.

 Weaver, J.  The World of Physics.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1987.  

Disclaimer:  This is a short paper that they young Susie Science wrote in 1996 therefore data in the proceeding text may not be entirely accurate.  I actually found a hand written copy of this in my basement.  This was written back in the dark ages when young scholars had the option of hand writing a paper or typing it on a computer because (gasp!) at one point not everyone had a computer!  Looking back now, I think my little paper was not too shabby.  🙂