Annual science fair at West Grand High School, science in motion |

Annual science fair at West Grand High School, science in motion

Tonya Bina
Grand County CO Colorado
Jordon Stevens, 14, demonstrates the methodology she used in testing subjects' peripheral vision, with the help of fellow student Nikki Moffat. Stevens disproved the theory that eye color impacts one's peripheral vision during the West Grand Annual Science Fair, held on Jan. 12. Tonya Bina/Sky-HI News

The displays were up, the judges equipped with clipboards and the students ready to defend their projects – it was the annual science fair at West Grand High School on Jan. 19.

Sophomore Gavin McAllister had already survived the judges’ scrutiny for his display entitled “Cowology,” but it didn’t seem like any nerves had gotten to him.

“I rodeo, I do horse-buckin’, so this is nothing,” he said nonchalantly.

Although he’s been in annual science fairs since 8th grade, this year’s was his favorite project, he said. “I did it on a topic I’m really interested in.”

McAllister chose a topic close to home on the Benson Ranch near Green Mountain Reservoir.

Although he thought he already knew the answer, McAllister set out to test “the least stressful way” on the part of livestock for ranchers to work cattle into corrals. Is this accomplished better by foot, or by horseback?

After testing each method twice using 19 cows, the horse method won out each time for directing livestock into an alleyway.

Cows remained visibly calmer. Keeping cattle calmer is important since stress can lead to weight loss, an unwanted factor when ranchers get paid by the pound.

Although his family has always done it this way, McAllister hopes this data could help modern ranchers who may be new to the field, who may use four-wheelers instead of horses to work cattle.

“This shows the old way is still the best way,” McAllister said.

McAllister ended up with an honorable mention for his project, which qualifies him to attend the Western Slope Regional Science Fair in Grand Junction in February along with many other West Grand students.

Freshman Jordan Stevens, who enjoys math and “the arts” in school, also qualified for the regional fair for her project about peripheral vision. Stevens wondered if one’s peripheral vision is impacted by eye color.

A theory floating around on the Internet, Stevens said, is that people with brown eyes have better peripheral vision because they generally have wider pupils, and that blue-eyed individuals have better peripheral vision in dim light.

She tested nine people ages 15 years to 40 years of varying eye color, and found eye color doesn’t affect vision.

Other students pondered questions like: How easy is it to improve one’s reading speed (Malynn Glass, 15)? Does a hydrogen fuel cell run better with warm or cold water (Zahen Castaneda, 15)? How hot does a fire need to be to sterilize soils?

Cody Volt’s project “Will it grow” tested answers to that last question. Volt hypothesized that soil heated to more than 300 degrees Celsius wouldn’t support initial plant growth. He tested 11 samples of dirt by heating them with a weed burner to temperatures ranging from 50 degrees Celsius to 500 degrees Celsius, then planted Annual Rye seeds and concluded his hypothesis was correct. For his project, Volt was awarded first place and “Best Overall Science Project” among high school students.

Science at work

The quality of student projects this year ranged from “last-minute, to four months of thought,” said volunteer judge John Anarella of the U.S. Forest Service, Yampa Ranger District.

As many as 20 volunteers judged the science fair, including scientists and engineers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, BLM, Mountain Parks Electric, the Henderson Mine and Mill, Blue Valley Ranch, the U.S. Forest Service, the Soil Conservation Service, and retired teachers.

West Grand science teachers Lori Haack and EmmyLou Harmon introduced students to the scientific process at the beginning of the year – coming up with a problem, hypothesis, research, testing, and conclusion – and required students to have their science-fair topics chosen by Oct. 1. Students worked on their projects outside of classroom time, save for some time during class for using computers and printing materials.

The science project is worth about 20 percent of one’s grade, Haack said. Students gain skills during the course of the project, ranging from public speaking and time management, to applying science to real-life scenarios.

One student, Austin Gregory, 16, should see his project applied to “real life” by the end of the school year. A member of the Robotics Team, Gregory set out to test the best method for launching a basketball mechanically.

Gregory tested the velocity of balls in flight using two different sized wheels in pitching machines. He found the 6-inch wheel worked best, counter to his hypothesis, and his findings likely will be applied in this year’s robot construction. In the robotics contests, West Grand’s robot may be shooting a small basketball through a hoop.

Gregory was granted the award “Best energy-related project.”

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603

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