Judges of the 827 projects competing in this year's California State Science Fair, held in May at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, weighed the scientific merits of each project. We just liked the titles--well, the funny ones. "rC(VI) Reduction by an Anaerobic Bacterial Consortia From Marine Sediments" went over our heads.
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12th grade, Clairmont Academy, Van Nuys
PROJECT: "Testing a Small Blimp for Use in Reconnaissance and the Firing of Rockets."
What began as a 16-foot-long blimp envelope (the kind used for advertising new homes) grew to include a computer-designed aluminum gondola, two nitromethane motors, two rocket launchers and video and audio VHF transmitters, all floating on a 150-foot tether.
FINDINGS: When he launched the two projectiles over North Weddington Park, he got a bird's eye view of Toluca Lake. (Don't fret, the Fire Department stood by.)
FUTURE APPLICATIONS: Reconnaissance or atmospheric testing. "I think I'm going into retirement for a year. Then I'm taking it into a laboratory. I wish I had more time and money. I could build something better."
9th grade, La Quinta High School
PROJECT: "Don't Bust the Crust!"
Built an infiltrometer to study how the low desert's cryptobiotic crust at the Living Desert center near Palm Springs helps desert soil retain water and stability.
FINDINGS: Won first prize in the senior Environmental Engineering division. "I'm a freshman, so it's extremely intimidating to be competing against all these seniors." Her favorite crust? "Chicago-style deep dish. It's the best!"
FUTURE APPLICATIONS: To study the New Mexico desert after high school; in the meantime, boogie on her school's winning dance team.
8th grade, Vista Verde School, Irvine
PROJECT: "Is Foot Odor Responsible for Mosquito Bites?"
After discovering from a previous project that mosquitoes were attracted to his dad's dirty socks, Max swabbed the feet of various subjects, including two neighbors and his cat Spot, to see what mosquito species liked them best.
FINDINGS: More research necessary. "It depends entirely on the person's foot, the type of bacteria and the mosquito." No harm done: "It didn't really smell too bad."
FUTURE APPLICATIONS: To cut down the spread of diseases like malaria by learning how to eliminate the specific mosquito species that carry them. "I'd try to clone their genes and make a mutant that can't smell, and compare the DNA of his antennae to the DNA structure of a regular antenna. If I can duplicate that, I can biologically engineer mosquitoes that can't smell the person they want to feed on."