Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

Good idea germ-inates into a first-place win

March 13, 2003

First-place science fair projects can require endurance and dedication on behalf of the students putting them together, but it's unlikely many students put themselves into their work as literally as Whitney Box.

The Eudora Middle School seventh-grader cultured some of her own germs to answer the question, "Can you ever be too clean?" The answer is yes or no, depending on how you look at it.

"(The judges) said it was a really good project and that sometimes you have some germs on you, and it's OK and you need them to be healthy," Box said.

But the project that earned Box first place among seventh- and eighth-graders at the Douglas County Science Fair last week also showed how gray and green fuzzies can be cultured, even from washed hands, brushed teeth and clean fingernails.

Box fastened petri dishes to her display board alongside photos of her engaging in activities like blowing her nose and brushing her teeth, all with her face cleverly concealed for the anonymity necessary in the judging.

Using gelatin as a base, Box compared the microbes that grew from her brushed and unbrushed teeth, from her hands after blowing her nose and after washing them, and so on. Although the dirty samples showed more visible growth, the "clean" samples exhibited visible growth, too. Her conclusion: No matter how clean you think you are, you still carry germs around with you.

Getting them to grow, however took some help from her mom, Cathy, and an incubator.

"It was kind of hard because they weren't growing, so we put it under the incubator," Box said.

However, instead of getting growing germs Box got melted, soupy gelatin. On her second try, the incubator trick worked, but the dirty fingernails sample was still stagnant a day before the competition. Then it took off.

"It grew in a day's time," she said.

Box, who has been entering the science fair since fifth grade, is no newcomer to germs. Her first project showed how many germs were on common items, such as doorknobs. The following year, she said her project looked at germs growing on food like apples. So what's with the interest in germs?

"I really don't know," Box said, adding that her science class with Joe Pickett helped her understand more about germs.

Box said she became interested in the science fair as a student at Eudora West Elementary School.

"At West, they really get you into it," she said. "At this school, it's more open."

Earning her first top placing came after several years of science fair awards. Working on countless 4-H projects helped, too, she said.

"It was really easy to do because you know how these projects are supposed to be -- neat," she said.

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