Students explore science frontiers

District science fair taking place this week at Okanagan Skaha schools

Austin Hogg squeezes methane

Austin Hogg squeezes methane

Despite the teachers’ strike, students who had their hearts set on participating in the district science fair, originally scheduled for March 6, still have a chance to go on to the regional and possibly national competitions.

They may have to wait a little while, however, to find out. Instead of being confined to a single night, science fair organizer Raja Gupta and a team of judges are going from school to school this week. By the end of this week, Gupta plans to have a list of 30 projects selected to move on to the regional competition, scheduled for April 9 and 10 at Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus.

Austin Hogg, a Grade 8 student at Summerland Middle School, is hoping to repeat his performance from last year, which took him all the way to the national competition.

He’s put a lot of careful work into his project, “Ticking Time Bomb,” examining the effects of methane gas under the Siberian East Arctic ice shelf, and solutions to the problem of what to do with the gas.

“There is methane bubbles under the ice, and as our earth is warming, the ice is melting and the bubbles are going into the atmosphere,” said Hogg. “I am trying to prevent that from harming our earth.”

To demonstrate one solution, Hogg used a bunsen burner to burn off methane gas collected from a miniature digester he built and filled with rotting potatoes and bananas. But, he said, there are better solutions.

“In China, Russia and Japan, they actually collect the gas and use it for cooking and heating,” said Hogg. The Siberian methane fields, he explained, are an immense resource, though the situation is very dangerous.

“A Russian scientist found over 1,000 fountains, some over a kilometre across,” said Hogg. “It scared me that our earth is full of methane. Since methane is explosive, if you lit it, there could be a big disaster. So Russia could be destroyed, and all around the area.”

Okanagan Skaha school trustee Linda van Alphen has been part of the judging team for a decade. Not only is it a good way to connect with the students, she said it is always fun to see what kind of projects the students come forward with.

At Summerland Middle School, they ranged from Hogg’s exploration of methane to a bridge levitating on magnets and the search for the perfect play dough.

“I am always amazed at where they go,” said van Alphen. “I don’t think I was this brilliant when I was a kid and we didn’t learn these kind of skills, these problem solving skills.”

Gupta said it was important that Hogg’s project and all the others get their chance to continue as part of the larger chain that leads to the nationals.

Not only are the kids learning and exploring subjects that interest them, but the potential payoff for their investment of time is high.

“You could spend a fair amount of time working on a science fair project and reap the rewards of that quite nicely. At the regional science fair, UBC Okanagan offers a scholarship to Grade 11 and 12 students who do well,” said Gupta.

“Then when you get to the national level, almost a half million in scholarships and awards go to students of all levels. If you are a student in Grade 12, you might be able to have your schooling paid for, just by spending a few hours here and there working on a science fair project.”