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Institute Plays Host To Science Expo, Fair

By Brett Altschul

Johnson Athletic Center played host to two science fairs for high school and middle school students this week.

On Saturday, it housed the 47th annual Massachusetts State Science Fair. It was followed on Wednesday by the fourth annual MIT Science Expo for local public middle school students.

The state science fair has been held at MIT for many years, but the Expo is a newer addition for younger students, and originated at MIT. The Educational Studies Program sponsored the first Expo three years ago, and the MIT Public Service Center has organized the event since.

The Expo is intended to prepare fifth through eighth graders for the State Science Fair. Although the event is non-competitive, each participant did receive a comment sheet from MIT student volunteers.

At the State Science Fair, about 300 high school students competed for $150,000 in prizes and scholarships. Twenty-seven students received first-place honors.

The Science Expo featured about 100 middle school students. In addition to explaining their posters to passers-by during a public viewing period, the young scientists toured some MIT facilities, including the Artificial Intelligence Lab, the Plasm Fusion Center, and the Media Laboratory, said Richard R. Sanford '96, the event's student coordinator.

Students present findings

Some of the booths at the Expo presented results of very sophisticated experiments. Kabir Mukaddam, a seventh-grader from the King Open School, displayed his findings regarding the effects of temperature on the functioning of ceramic magnets.

Mukaddam presented data on the magnets' repulsive and attractive strengths over a wide range of temperatures. "I found out that the temperature affects magnets a lot more than I had thought," he said.

"I was going to build a mag-lev train, but that was too hard," Mukaddam said. "I had a bunch of magnets left over, and I decided to do another experiment with them."

Kristen Staples, Darcie Toland, and Renel Holton, three eighth graders from King, showed the results of their experiments on the interaction between hearing and taste.

"My sister was listening to loud music while she was eating, and suddenly, she couldn't taste her food," Staples said. "That's where we got the idea for the experiment."

The three aspiring psychologists tested 10 subjects' ability to recognize five different tastes while listening to music at different intensities, ranging from silent to quite loud. They found a strong negative correlation between the accuracy of the taste recognition and the volume of the music.

"We had a hard time coming up with a conclusion," Staples said. "We thought that one part of the brain might have trouble processing two pieces of information at the same time, or that it's just because they're concentrating on the words."

Another advanced project was produced by Michael Lawson, an eighth-grader from Agassiz Elementary School. He studied the construction of self-contained airtight environments, trying to find the optimal amount of water for plant growth.

He planted four seeds in each environment and added a different amount of water to each. He then measured the height of the plants inside every day. "The airtight seal ensures that all the water will be recycled," he said.

"Eventually, we're going to need to build these on other planets," he said. "Unless we find another Earth, we'll have to find some method for terraforming."

The Expo concluded with some brief remarks by Cambridge officials, including the mayor, Sheila Russell, and a chemistry magic show put on by Jason Wong '96. Because of the unusually high ceiling in the Athletic Center, the performance featured something that's not a normal part of the Club Chem magic show: a hydrogen-filled exploding balloon.