Vail Mountain School students share their experiments |

Vail Mountain School students share their experiments

CVR VMS Science Fair DT 1-31-11

VAIL, Colorado – Everything you need to know about life you can learn at a Vail Mountain School science fair.

Will Jacobs can tell you what plastic bags blow up the fastest, and how to cause that explosion in the most creative ways.

Henry Minervini can tell you which ski goggles filter out the most light.

You learn which golf balls fly farther, straighter and last longer.

Which dishwasher detergent really leaves your dished squeaky clean? You’ll learn that at the science fair.

Did you know that when you freeze water and Coca-Cola, the Coke melts faster? Morgan Mueller discovered that, and can tell you eloquently and gracefully why it’s true. She can also tell you that when you drink Coke after it’s been frozen, it pretty much tastes yucky.

Yucky is not a scientific term, says Mueller, but it is a scientific fact.

VMS seventh- and eighth-graders have been doing this sort of thing for 25 years, because learning is fun.

One year, a science fair contestant, in the quest for knowledge and enlightenment, was experimenting with hockey shots. Among other things, he learned how hard he could fire a puck before it blew a hole in the garage door.

He didn’t know that before.

Brett Falk teaches eighth-grade science, Gabrielle Scherzer teaches seventh grade, and they encourage this sort of thing, bless their inquisitive little hearts.

They helped the kids prepare, but didn’t get to judge.

That fell to a panel of Upper School students, Upper School faculty and community members. Ross Sappenfield, chairman of the VMS science department, was resplendent Monday in a science/chemistry tie. His job was to keep the judges focused.

Contestants were judged on data and conclusions, procedure, research, oral presentation and display. If presentation matters, and it does, the kids themselves were dazzling, dressed in business attire – ties, suits, dresses. But their haberdashery did not obscure the messy business that science can sometimes be.

Some hand soaps work better than others; we now know why and what some of them are, and that you do have to get grimy to succeed with a soap experiment.

And you can always put your mess in a plastic bag, unless your mess IS a plastic bag.

Take Will Jacobs, for instance.

By combining warm water with baking soda and vinegar, young Mr. Jacobs learned that it takes 4.6 seconds to blow a hole in the side of your standard Ziploc bag.

That’s good, but what’s better is that takes only five seconds to blow open a Ziploc Evolve, the more environmentally friendly plastic bag.

Among his conclusions: “If you’re willing to wait for less than a half second and go with the more environmentally friendly bag, you could do something good for the planet. A little delayed gratification might go a long way.”

Also among his conclusions: The body of the bag blew out, but the seal did not.

Mr. Minervini was a winner last year as a seventh grader, to no one’s surprise. His was the ski goggle experiment, the one to determine which color lens lets in the least light.

Before he started he thought it would be purple. He wrote that down. This is called the hypothesis.

He was not the least bit put off to learn it was orange. Science is enlightening, even when the object of your experiment is to keep light out.

Purple fell somewhere in the middle, metaphorically between the red states and blue states.

As with all good science projects, he learned what procedures he needed to perfect to get more consistent results.

“I’ll make those changes next time,” Minervini said.

And there will be a next time for some of these students. The top two advance to the Colorado/Wyoming Junior Academy of Science competition this spring at the University of Northern Colorado.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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