Today, while some of their fellow students sleep in, a host of Putnam County students in grades six through nine will be putting the last bit of spit and polish on their science fair projects. Judging for the 63rd Annual Putnam County Science Fair starts at 8:30 a.m., so all the nervous notecard shuffling and nail-biting will probably begin before sunrise.

If the scorecard is the same as it has been in recent years, projects will be judged according to knowledge achieved, effective use of the scientific method, clarity of expression, and originality and creativity. Your project has to look good, ring true and the owner has to do both while presenting the project to grown-ups. I’ve been on both sides of the table and I have to tell you, I think I was more nervous as a judge.

When I was in elementary school, my uncles turned my grandparents’ basement into a science lab for one month during the school year. I watched from a safe distance as they blew things up by mixing drops inside the glass beakers that used to fill those little white metal boxed chemistry sets. Either Carl or Denny built a volcano, a few years before Peter shot muddy lava all over the “Brady Bunch” living room. I think it was Tim that constructed my favorite: a working tornado machine. I could hardly wait until I was in Junior High so I could enter the Science Fair.

I did compete. I don’t recall that my projects were anchored firmly in the scientific method, but I must have nailed other criteria enough to make it to the regional level. In seventh grade, my focus was on my South Florida Kingsnake, Ra. I think I met the ‘clarifying expression’ criteria quite forcefully when asked how I felt about the role of snakes in the Old Testament. Let’s just say that I told the nun I felt God didn’t create junk, and leave it at that.

During my freshman year of high school, Grandpa Coburn suffered a fatal heart attack. My sophomore year Science Fair project helped me to process the loss with a study of “atherosclerosis leading to myocardial infarction. My science teacher allowed me to use a 3D module of the human heart. The prop wasn’t as a dramatic as a live snake, but it was still cool.

I don’t know how many Putnam County students will participate on Saturday, which ones will take advantage of the opportunity to win an impressive amount of money towards their future. Some will be in Kalida because participation class requirement, many exhausted from an all-nighter spent captioning display photos. Others will beam for approaching judges and pull well-worn index cards from the pockets of their three-piece suits. Perhaps one or two from either group will present a project that will affect the world as we know it.