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Real Science

The Mother Seton School S.T.E.M Fair

Michael Rosenthal

(4/2017) I recently attended my third Mother Seton School S.T.E.M Fair, and it was every bit as impressive as the first two, which I attended and wrote about earlier. S.T.E.M. represents relatively new nomenclature to explicitly include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The Mother Seton students had the option of entering the competition in 3rd grade and 4th grade, and the primary participants were in 5th through 8th grades. There was a total of 112 projects presented and 130 participants. As in previous years, the presentations consisted of a hypothesis, materials used, procedures undertaken, observations obtained, data obtained, and conclusions drawn from the experiment or study. An error analysis was sometimes included in the conclusions. A journal was presented with all this information, as well as visible information boards and examples of the experimental apparatus for the visitor to observe. It was very professional!

The range of experiments was very wide. Here are some of the topics that the students chose:

  • Tooth Paste Whitening Effectiveness
  • Does the font used in a written presentation affect memory of the material?
  • What type of bat is most effective in hitting a baseball the farthest?
  • How greasy are my favorite potato chips?
  • Can I make a Coloring Robot?
  • What food do dogs prefer?
  • Do certain age groups have a propensity to cheat?
  • Does music affect mental concentration?
  • Which dog food digests better?
  • How does Isaac Newtonís three laws of motion apply to the wave pendulum?

Iíve listed all of these topics to illustrate the very wide range of subjects that these students have undertaken. It is remarkable to me that students of this age group can undertake such sophisticated experiments and experimental analyses using professional science techniques. The mentors and directors of this program deserve the greatest congratulations for their guidance.

Here are some of the conclusions drawn from the above experiments:

  • Font utilized was not found to have dramatic impact on memory, but Arial seemed to offer most effective reader satisfaction.
  • An aluminum baseball bat appears to be the most effective bat because of its harder material, not because of its weight.
  • Music doesnít seem to have an impact on concentration for mathematics, but reading seemed more effective without music background.
  • The hypothesis for dogsí preferred food favored salmon, but the results indicated dogsí favorite food was beef.
  • There was no clear conclusion what dog food digested best.

These are but a few of the many topics explored among the 112 presentations.

Because I attended at the session where the students were present, I was able to meet and chat with some of them. Particularly fascinating to me was the work by Michael Hohenstein, "Can I Make a Coloring Robot." I had a great conversation with Michael, and Michael was first in the 5th grade completion. Also very impressive to me was "The Scorch Case," which was a hand warmer for outdoor activity encased in a cell phone casing. The students who undertook this project were Matthias Buchheister, Jack Guinan, and Gavin Marshall, and they won the 8th grade first prize and Grand Championship for an invention. Megan Adams won the 7th Grade First Prize and the Grand Championship for an experiment for her project, "Does Mouthwash Remove Bacteria From My Mouth After Brushing With Toothpaste?"

Leadership credit for this wonderful student work goes to the program director from Mother Seton School, Danielle Kuykendall; o student mentors Daryl Bruner, a web designer, Ed Hatter, a NASA scientist, and Jeff Simmons, Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Mount St. Maryís University.

Now, here are some updates on previous topics discussed in this column.

As one reads more about nuclear power, it becomes evident that a great deal of research is underway to make nuclear power plants that are smaller, cheaper, and safer than the earlier examples we know. Funding support and Research and Development (R&D) from the federal government have assisted these efforts; environmental groups are becoming friendlier to them and beginning to admit that to cut carbon emissions, nuclear power is necessary. NuScale Power in Oregon, in partnership with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, is building a small modular nuclear reactor in a factory. The success of this plan could be a major step in the clean power production effort. The plan is to have this reactor approved and then operating before 2030.

The Flint Michigan water crisis continues. The water flowing from their taps has not yet been deemed safe to drink, but the program by which resident water bills have been paid by the state is ending. The state has spent some $41 million in credits to offset resident water bills. The Michigan governor says "the cityís water meets all federal water-quality standards under the Lead and Copper Rule and Safe Drinking Water Act." The state will continue to provide water filters and filter replacement cartridges. The water, however, is still not safe to drink without the filters, and critics donít feel the water crisis is resolved until the water is drinkable without a filter. Though improved, there is not general agreement that the water is safe for human consumption. The problem is particularly serious in Flint, where the low-income population generally cannot afford bottled water, and the State distribution of bottled water will not last forever. The real problem is the defective lead-infested pipes, which neither Flint citizens nor the State of Michigan can afford to replace entirely at this time.

Iíve written several times about vitamins and other drugs. We have discovered a new newsletter that Iíd like to recommend to you. Itís called Worst Pills, Best Pills News ( that discusses medications and their effectiveness for a variety of disorders; the editor is an M.D. Iíve pointed out a number of times that non-FDA approved drugs are usually useless, sometimes dangerous, and serve only as moneymakers. However, there are often approved drugs of which one should be skeptical. It is well to seek advice from a competent physician regarding effectiveness and dangers from drugs, but physicians are often not able to keep up with the front-line science. My wife and I highly recommend this newsletter which costs only a modest $12 annually.

Ultimately, however, one must try to make the best decision with the best advice about treatment by medication. Science is always seeking the truth, at least when there is no personal motive involved, but we scientists are not always right. More study is often needed, so seek the best advice you can on medication, and try to make the decision thatís best for you. No one knows better than a scientist (like me!) that we are not always right.

Finally, a correction. I stated in an earlier Real Science that the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant was on the Delaware River. It is actually on the Susquehanna River just south of Harrisburg, PA.

Michael is former chemistry professor at Mount. St. Marys

Read other articles by Michael Rosenthal