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
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.