The Herald-Times

Young scientists, engineers compete at Ivy Tech

Regional winners will compete in state contest

By Mike Leonard

331-4368 | mleonard@heraldt.com

March 6, 2011


There are any number of details that can affect a scientific experiment, including variable factors the researcher can control and environmental factors that can’t be controlled.

Rebecca Hoffman experienced the latter when carrying out her project for the South Central Regional Science and Engineering Fair Saturday at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington.

“I think it was a hawk,” she said with a grimace.

The Lighthouse Christian Academy eighth-grader took second place anyway in the junior division animal behavior category and will move on to the state competition that Ivy Tech also will host on April 2.

Hoffman’s experiment sought to determine whether chickens could respond to operant conditioning. When a chicken pecked at a white label, Hoffman blew a whistle and gave the animal a treat. When it pecked at a purple label, nothing happened.

Over weeks of working with two chickens, she documented that the animals learned to associate the white label with the positive reinforcement. “She had lots of good data,” said her teacher, Katie Petra.

She would have had even more data if the hawk hadn’t eliminated two of her research subjects. “The chickens are free-range,” she explained. “It only happened once in the past. We think it was a raccoon that time.”

Savannah Billingsley, a Lighthouse sophomore, sought to discover whether a popular belief was true — that equine shampoo strengthened human hair better than human shampoos. The result? “Human shampoo works better,” she said.

Another Lighthouse student, freshman Annie Beisecker, decided to test which fruits provide the most vitamin C. “Strawberries and papaya both came out better than oranges,” she said. Beisecker said she’s good at science and might consider it as a career. “But what I’m really into is cake decorating,” she said with a laugh.

Lighthouse and Greensburg Community Schools sent the most students to the 62nd annual competition. Unlike the majority of schools, both conduct science and engineering competitions at the school level before students attempt to enter the regional competition.

Greensburg Community High School Students Colton Black and Andrew Meadows said the long trip to Bloomington was the only thing that wasn’t fun about the science competition. “We hit the road at 6 a.m.,” Black said, “but we woke up at 4.”

Black and Meadows also won medals and will move on to the state competition in April. Their team entry was titled “Go Green, Be Hot,” and it demonstrated how their “Thermo Fan” invention sitting on a wood stove could redirect heat downward without using any external power source and raise the ambient air temperature by 13 degrees.

Forty-three students from a 10-county area participated in the junior high and high school divisions at this year’s science fair.

Qualifying for the state competition, from the junior division, were: Sheridan Roberts, Kacy Hamer, Evan Bockover, Jeffrey Lawrence, Braden Hammond, Kaleigh McGinn, Rebecca Hoffman, Maria Tiwari, Anna McCoy, Taylor Bobbett, Maddie Hooten and Grace Burkhart.

Senior qualifiers were: Annie Beisecker, Savannah Billingsley, Andrew Meadows, Colton Black, Matthew Rust, Rebecca Chen, Joshua Clemons, Jordan Cadle, Katie Kapelsohn, Margaret Holdeman and Harrison Gaebler.

A toy chicken stands in for Rebecca Hoffman’s test subjects Saturday in the Lighthouse Christian Academy eighth-grader’s display on her study of operant conditioning with chickens. Monty Howell | Herald-Times

Rebecca Hoffman, an eighth-grader at Lighthouse Christian Academy, discusses her entry in the South Central Regional Science and Engineering Fair Saturday at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington. Monty Howell | Herald-Times

Harrison Gaebler talks about his mathematical analysis of future cosmic star formation, his project for the science and engineering fair Saturday on Ivy Tech's Bloomington campus. Monty Howell | Herald-Times

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