Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Days of Agar and E-coli

Just read Jeff's post about his Younger Child's adventures in science. Ahh, yes, those science fair days...seems like yesterday.

Two of my daughters participated in science fair projects during their high school and middle school years, and did quite well. One project even went to a state competition in Austin.

Science wasn't my most favorite class in school, but I must have retained more than I realized. When faced with these daunting projects, I dove in head first to help my children enthusiastically. Perhaps with a tad too much motherly interference.

In truth, I was a bad parent.

The projects fascinated me; I was relentless in repeating experiments, creating new hypothesis, and painting splashy backboards. I was the project-Nazi. I hope my kids learned as much from these little experiments as their mom did. Little, heck, they were BIG PRODUCTIONS with a BIG BUDGET. (Okay, so it wasn't as big as the experiment that smarty-pants, my-father-is-a-veterinarian Magnet School student did with cows, copper IUDS and artificial insemination. We weren't ranchers with a couple of bovines handy in the backyard.)

By the time Jamie took a project to Austin for the state competition, I was a regular Igor at this stuff. I can't recall the exact hypothesis, but it involved varying amounts of electricity, special algae and test tubes. We never created any monster, but our kitchen looked like Castle Frankenstein at night from all the glowing test tubes. Only thing missing was echoing demonic laughter and a lightening storm soundtrack.

The year before we tested hamburger meat from various grocery store butcher counters. The ground beef was painted across with sterile swabs then struck on agar plates. Since I worked for a doctor, it was easy access to the tools of the trade. The resulting bacterial growth made me a vegan for months. Yuck. Little buggers look huge and vicious under a microscope.

Another project entitled, "Do You Practice Safe Sun?" won some blue ribbons. It was an experiment to see which types of intervention worked best to protect human skin from cancer-causing UV rays. Never doubt Super Science Mom when it comes time for a catchy project title. Oh, and sunscreen lotion does work when applied as directed. Duh. We won a prize for this conclusion?

Various other projects involved eggs in vinegar, salt and sugar crystallization, and other nifty recipes for making stinky messes.

But, as I pointed out to Jeff, science fair projects are things great family memories are made of.

Worth every 2 A.M. wakeup to check on whether that pesky algae is growing or not. And, be sure to remind your kids it will be their turn some day to help nurture a future Madame Marie Curie...or a Dr. Frankenstein. Bwahahaha.


Trace said...

Being involved; well ok,very involved, :) was probably really appreciated by your young'ens. It's the stuff great memories are made of...I remember when I was teaching years ago, I was asked to be one of the judges at a science fair. Oh god, how difficult it was to choose winners!

Anonymous said...

Both of my kids had the fortunate experience of going to a charter school here specializing in mathematics and the sciences. Or so I thought. Come Science Project and Senior Research Project time, it became obvious that, if your parent, or in some cases, parents, worked for DuPont, specifically at the DuPont Experimental Station, you had a bit of an edge. That edge meant you had access to equipment that was in the Beta testing stage; stuff we only imagined. As the judges went around (usually DupOnt and Astra Zeneca scientists), you knew that the poster board presentations of experiments gone awry in the basement were not going to be examined closely. Especially if, as occurred twice in my son's stay there, your research projects are published in national scientific journals. It was a rathe rhumbling experience for the kids and for myself. But, it was all good as it prepared them for the humbling rigors of university where other kids had to deal with not being on top for the first time, along with the regular agonies of freshman year.

Anonymous said...

"Do You Practice Safe Sun?" - so long as no-one else in my part of Ontario reads your blog, I think I ... uh, we may finally have a shot at that elusive blue ribbon, too! (Kidding, of course: nothing irks me more than plagiarism.)

SpookyRach said...

Hahaha! Great stuff! You are definitely a master of the Science Fair craft.

MotherPie said...

Science projects. Nothing like the group projects where the kids had all this huge amount of work but the parents had to get the stuff, drive and arrange the kids to get together, etc.

Especially w/ three kids.

I'd rather have had five single projects than one group project...

Jeff said...

Wish us luck! Putting disappointment aside, Younger Child is bound next for the Regional Science Fair.

He will be among several friends/classmates ... ours is a public school, but a damn good one ... and the kids there - with appropriate amounts of encouragement and guidance from teachers and parents - accomplish wonderful things

Jeff said...

... and NOW he comes home, Friday, and tells me he'll be one of two from his classroom competing in the school's Geography Bee ... Help !!! ... get me an atlas !!!

joared said...

Somebody needs to research the learning curve for the parents of these science fair kid wonders and give them a prize, too, from the sound of these reports! ;-)