A day at the science fair

I’ve been off at the local high school, judging the local science fair. It’s a strange experience. An awful lot of the experiments involved playing with guns, which I guess is to be expected in a rural area.

They were still a bit disturbing.

And then you occasionally run into a peculiar rationale, in this case for an experiment involving weighted Hot Wheels cars.

I also had the student who thanked me afterwards, saying “Thank you for judging me.” I had to tell him I wasn’t judging him, I only judge the project.

Anyway, it didn’t matter if they did odd, off-the-wall experiments on phenomena that I didn’t find at all interesting. What mattered is that they actually tested their hypothesis appropriately, and how well they presented their data. And they were all good kids.


  1. nomdeplume says

    “Good kids”? Well, maybe, but the two examples you give would certainly suggest something very disturbing going on.

  2. Chris Capoccia says

    lots of people make a hobby of guns and ballistics is a field of science… much more difficult to safely conduct experiments in an urban setting. i’m more worried about the vehicular homicide with a stranded preposition. Actually as far as the danger of the two, you’re far more likely to be killed by bad vehicle drivers than by bad gun holders

  3. says

    My first question would be, has it been established that soft point bullets do in fact break up more than fully jacketed bullets? I wonder if it’s another field filled with snake oil and chicanery?

  4. John Morales says

    Stroking kiddies for weak efforts is not a good thing; really, I would be embarrassed to do so.
    “If soft tip bullets break up when they hit the target then full metal jacket bullets will penetrate further into the gel”

    That “hypothesis” would be falsified if soft tip bullets did not break up when hitting yet full metal jacket bullets did not penetrate further into the gel, but not otherwise.

    (Was this the scientific test performed to sustain the hypothesis? I doubt that very, very much)


  5. whheydt says

    Hmm… While my best science fair effort was a model and exposition about volcanoes, my son did one that was the design for a nuclear weapon. What perturbed the physics professor they had in to judge was that his design came close enough to the right masses to work, and the overall design would have worked. This by a kid in junior high working strictly from publicly available sources…in the late-1980s.

    My son’s main complaint was that the sure fire way to win a science fair was to get a cow’s heart and dissect it.

  6. illdoittomorrow says

    The first project has so many ifs, ands, buts, and maybes baked into it that I don’t know where to start. The second one, I’m just a little lolwut… either way I think I’d have gently encouraged the students in other directions if I was their teacher.

  7. unclefrogy says

    as you said the question was really did they follow good procedure not whether anything new was discovered.
    the experiments you described sound like something you might see on myth busters which regardless of their sometimes over the top sensationalism do try to use good procedure and reasoning all good things to encourage with scientific thinking.
    which is better than faith
    uncle frogy

  8. weylguy says

    My proposed project seeks to determine how ballistic gelatin compares with the real thing, and I’m seeking Red State volunteers for this ambitious and important study.

  9. whheydt says

    Re: weylguy @ #11…

    I read book written by an avid hunter who got into bow hunting by being the personal physician to Ishi. He was using yew longbows. At one point, he wanted to test the effectiveness of bodkin points. So he borrowed a mail hauberk from the anthropology museum on the UC Berkeley campus. They draped the hauberk over a wooden crate full of liver to simulate a human body. The arrow went through the mail, through the box, and pushed the mail out on the other side.

    The student that had brought the hauberk over from the museum, and had volunteered to wear it for the test was described as turning green when he saw what happened.

    (And, I too, am dubious that gel would make a soft point bullet break up. A hollow point might, though.)

  10. says

    Liver is soft compared to the entirety of the human body. Did nobody learn from Mythbusters that pigs are a decent analog to humans?

  11. Richard Smith says

    @whheydt (#7)

    my son did one that was the design for a nuclear weapon

    It’s when they start getting practical that things really get worrisome.

  12. JustaTech says

    Chris Capoccia @3: Just because I wasn’t sure if you were clear, the “cars” in the second picture are toy cars small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand, and so are unlikely to actually injure a person while rolling (having one thrown at your head is a different matter).

    I actually like this as a science fair project because it clearly demonstrates a scientific principle (impact of mass on velocity under gravity), and it doesn’t cost a lot of money to do. Probably the kid didn’t have to buy any supplies (depending on if they already had the cars, track and whatever they used for weights), which is nice because you shouldn’t win the science fair just because your parents could afford to buy you a bunch of expensive stuff.

    As for the purpose, well, I can totally see my little brother doing this when we were kids (actually he did, just without the science), so while it’s not nice, it’s not that weird.

  13. Chris Capoccia says

    I realize the experiment was done with toy cars. PZ did write “weighted Hot Wheels cars”. But I had read the purpose statement as meaning that conclusions would be drawn about behavior of real cars. Even with your more benign reading, it’s still antisocial and teachers and/or parents should have given some instruction