FAIRMONT – Ainsley Lilly and Meredith Taylor wanted to find out which house pet transferred the most germs when licking a human’s face.
Through the use of the scientific method, where the two eighth-graders from West Fairmont Middle School proposed a hypothesis, performed experiments and studied the results, they found that cats’ saliva had the least amount of germs, while the subject with the most germs was a surprise to them.
“The question is ‘Should you let your pets lick your face,’” Lilly said. “So we got a human, dogs and cats and tested their spit, and humans came out the dirtiest and cats came out the cleanest.”
More than a hundred students from six West Virginia counties put the scientific method to use on their own experiments and brought their findings to the table Saturday for the North Central West Virginia Science Fair at Fairmont State University’s Engineering Technology Building. The fair brings together students from grades 3-12 and has them compete in different categories from biology to engineering to place into the leading spots to move on to the state science fair.
“This year is the first year that everyone who is at the regional fair won at their county fair,” said Sherry Mitchell, outreach coordinator for Fairmont State’s College of Science and Technology. “Prior to this year, you could just show up at the regional or you didn’t even have to and you were a high school student. Now you have to go through this fair to qualify for the state fair.”
Winners on every level of the fair Saturday will be moving on to the state science fair, which takes place March 28 also on Fairmont State’s campus. According to Mitchell, competing at the state science fair is the highest level of competition for everyone but one high school team from the state, who will move on to the finals.
“The state fair for elementary and middle school is the end of the road,” Mitchell said. “For high school, one outstanding project will go on to the International Science Fair in California.”
The variety of the subjects was on full display at the fair Saturday, with students in all grade levels packing different rooms containing different fields of science. Some schools had multiple entrants into the fair, who covered every one of the fields.
“I have elementary, middle and high school, and I have representation from all levels,” said Lois Campbell, a science teacher at Trinity Christian School in Morgantown. “I have kids who are mechanical engineering, plant sciences, chemistry, translational sciences which is disease treatment and therapy. They do all kinds of projects.”
According to Campbell, the students themselves get to choose what project they would like to work on for the fair because she believes that gives them the most motivation to pursue a strong conclusion. She gave some examples of the projects the students displayed at the fair Saturday, after working them out over the course of months.
“If they’re into botany or environmental science, they’ll do something in bioengineering,” Campbell said. “I have one student who is looking at how to purify river water or creek water with UV light… This little one, she’s a fifth-grader, she was doing things with spaghetti and seeing how strong spaghetti could be when it is bundled together.”
Campbell also said that she starts work on this process early on in the school year, because it takes time for many experiments to come together. She said that they start off on the basics of science to get everyone accustomed to the scientific method, then the instructors are available to help the students from there.
“We start early in September with all the children in our school who are going to be in a science fair,” Campbell said. “We get them involved in lab activities with us, a very hands-on environment, and they get to do an activity and understand variables. Then we go through the process of selecting an activity that they want to be involved with.”
In addition to getting to compete in a science fair on a state and potentially even national level, Campbell said the benefits of working on a science project are in the method itself, where students can come to understand the value of working through a problem toward a solution. She said the lessons learned through failure could be useful throughout a student’s life, and they get that experience by participating in the science fair.
“We really want them just to understand the scientific process, not the steps but more so how scientists have failures and work around those failures,” Campbell said. “Some of these students will probably go on and do science at a university level, but even if they don’t, we want them to be able to be thinking about things creatively and in ways to solve problems. Even if they choose not to pursue science, they can still use the same skills they learned in the science fair.”
The lessons learned from competing in the science fair will stick with Lilly and Taylor even despite them not getting to move on to the next level. The learning itself, for them, was the victory.
“It’s too bad we never placed,” Lilly said. “We still won at heart.”
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