CHARLOTTESVILLE — On the list of life’s more enduring and compelling questions, “How bad do I smell?” must rank at or near the top on any given day.
Fortunately, Eastern Hancock Elementary School fifth-grader Chelsi McMahan has studied the issue scientifically, and her results were published Thursday at the Eastern Hancock Schools annual Science Fair.
Now in its fifth year, the fair drew 100 entrants, 62 of whom made it through the scientific method and posted their findings Thursday.
“We would have liked to have seen more exhibits, but we are very pleased with the quality,” said EH fifth-grade teacher Dana Allen.
Judges for the event agreed the exhibits were top notch.
“The kids are amazing,” said Bob Hunt, clinical research manager for Eli Lilly and Co., who has been judging the fair since its inception. “Since this program started, we’ve seen the quality really ratcheting up.”
Projects were judged on adherence to the scientific method – researching and forming a hypothesis, experimentation to test it and then drawing the appropriate conclusions.
Students then communicated their findings during an interview with the judges.
Chelsi has advanced to the regional meet twice before. She reported to judges that mothers cannot, in fact, discern between the aroma of their children and others.
“These kids’ ability to talk to people they don’t know is amazing,” said Janis Lewman, an Eli Lilly retiree who is judging the fair for the fourth time. “They’re six years old, standing there talking like a pro, and you can see the sparkle in their eyes.”
In addition to volunteers from Eli Lilly and Co., the fair drew judges from Elanco as well as a variety of other area scientists and engineers, Allen said.
Vying locally for the top three ribbons in each class and a chance at one of four $25 gift cards donated by Citizens Bank, three students at grade levels 6 through 12 will have the opportunity to attend the March regional competition at Marian University in Indianapolis; Eastern Hancock has a history of doing well there, said instructional assistant Cathleen Huffman.
Last year, EH Elementary students brought home four of the 17 awards handed out for the entire Central Indiana region, Huffman said.
Among the issues put to scientific scrutiny this year were: Which Bread is Best? and, Can Cranberries Swim? The ubiquitous model volcano was on hand to pose the annual question: How do Volcanoes Erupt? And an elaborate examination on The Study of Arrow Penetration for the Ethical Harvesting of Wild Game, complete with hunting bow, vectors and projections in three dimensions, dominated one of the folding tables.
Not all hypotheses were borne out, however, and in some cases the results were downright disappointing.
Makayla Raines and Kaley Sitton, EH Middle School seventh-graders, chomped their way toward determining which brand of chewing gum lasted longest, defined by Kaley as that point “when it’s like rubber in your mouth.”
The answer: “Thirty minutes, tops,” said Makayla, who responded with the authority of someone who had, indeed, chewed on the matter for quite some time.
Unfortunately, the brand possessing the most elasticity and longevity, according the girls’ study was, alas, not Kaley’s favorite.
Of course the essential question with any form of theoretical science is: How will it be applied?
Now that Chelsi understands mothers cannot differentiate between the scent of their children and someone else’s, will she ask a friend to slip inside the house and cover for her beneath her mother’s nose at some opportune time in the future?
“Probably not,” she said.