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February 19, 2013
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When being wrong is right

VAIL, Colorado - Sometimes being wrong takes you to the right answer, as Vail Mountain School students learned in their annual science fair.

"Science is messy," said Jaymee Squires of Walking Mountains Science Center.

Squires was one of the guest judges of this year's Vail Mountain School science fair.

Getting to the answer is good. Working through the scientific method is better. Students plan, analyze, and rethink their work, and then make sense of their findings.

Along the way students learn stuff, sometimes that their original idea - their hypothesis - might not be supported by actual facts, even though they seemed like a good idea at the time. They're like tattoos and most political affiliations that way.

"The process helps students gain confidence for working with real-life situations where there really is no right answer," Squires said.

There's a process - the scientific method - and students practice working through it.

They solve their own problems along the way, instead of a teacher leading them through it.

"Having survived these challenges leaves students feeling empowered and confident in their ability to really do science," Squires said.

The VMS Science Fair has been around for most of the school's 50-year history.

Scientific method has not changed, but the questions have.

Students tapped experts at the local Steadman Philippon Research Institute, who provided advice and feedback about experiments.

"Having world-class research scientists as a sounding board really gives students a sense of validation and pride," said Gabe Scherzer, a VMS science teacher.

Staff and interns from Steadman Philippon Research Institute help judge the science fair, as did other experts from Walking Mountains Science Center, Eagle River Watershed Council, the U.S. Forest Service and the Vail Recreation District.

The winners:

Brendan Keane, Best Overall, seventh grade. He asked if sunscreen SPF 50 or greater actually provides more protection than those with less. He constructed an elaborate contraption involving small boxes, equipment to measure UV rays, and a tanning bed.

Ana Holguin, Most Scientific, seventh grade. She grew bacteria in 24 Petri dishes to determine which hand sanitizing products work best. She compared lemon juice, and a number of chemicals including ethyl alcohol. Alcohol won.

Malia Hollander, Most Original, seventh grade. She wanted to know which fabrics produce the most static electricity when rubbed against the family pet. She used a homemade device that used displacement of two pieces of aluminum foil to measure different amounts of static charge.

Sydney Sappenfield, Best Overall, eighth grade. She tested the relationship between vasodilation and muscle strength. She heated and cooled test subjects' forearms and measured grip strength. She settled on this experiment when she observed that exercising in hot temperatures gave her headaches and made her feel weaker. She wanted to know if it happened to other people. It does.

Larkin Armbruster, Most Scientific, eighth grade. She wanted to know if eating snow might expose children to risk because of bacteria. She learned it's best to avoid eating snow if you can.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Feb 20, 2013 12:37PM Published Feb 19, 2013 09:52PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.