Forty finalists from across the U.S. gathered in Washington, DC this weekend to kick off the annual Discovery Education Young Scientist Challenge. Finalists displayed and explained their winning science fair projects at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History on Sunday, October 21, 2007.
The 2007 YSC finalists competed in team-based, interactive science challenges focused on the environmental theme "Operation Green." From powering an electric car to calculating carbon footprints to understanding glacial melting, each team tapped its scientific knowledge, laboratory skills, and science communication abilities during the timed and judged challenges. View photo galleries or slideshows of each challenge, and check out the forty finalists in action!
The Electric Ride
Finalists were challenged to determine the exact power requirements needed to drive a converted electric Volkswagen to school and back, using only non-carbon energy sources. Using solar panels and precision equipment, finalists determined the basic wiring circuit of the "e-car" and then concluded the size and number of solar cells required to complete the drive.
A Greener Blueprint
Master "green architect", Craig Rhodes, challenged finalists to design one element of a "green" building plan—manipulation of sunlight. Finalists studied green building plans and then crafted a model building capable of gathering the optimum amount of solar energy in a specific location during a typical day.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Does the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere really affect ambient temperature? In a greenhouse, a large ice sculpture was the focus of a glacial melting exercise. Finalists took sample ice chunks and used lab methods to determine the melting rate in the ambient air, and then again in the CO2-enhanced air. They then compared and contrasted the effect of CO2 on melting rates.
Mind Your CO2s
Finalists were challenged to define a carbon footprint and understand how it is determined. Each team researched and calculated a typical carbon footprint scenario and presented the results in a two-minute podcast. Scenarios included a cheeseburger, one year operation of incandescent vs. high efficiency halogen light bulbs, a movie and pizza date, transportation to the YSC event, one year of watching TV, heating a backyard swimming pool for one season, annual use of a home fireplace, and recreational driving for one year.
The Hot and Cold of It
How does a small increase in air temperature in one location affect weather changes in other locations? What is the relationship between temperature and pressure of ambient air? Finalists undertook a series of science activities—including creating a tabletop "fire tornado" and producing the rare substance, solid nitrogen—with the goal of creating a brief statement that clearly and precisely explains the effects of slight changes in ambient temperature on global weather patterns.
The average American creates four pounds of trash everyday! Addressing the current dilemma that America is running out of landfill space, finalists were challenged to use scientific equipment and techniques to accurately measure volumes, masses, and densities of typical refuse and then use a 40-ton hydraulic press to compact as much as possible into a one cubic foot box. Finally, teams wrote a museum-quality label for this display piece.