SIKESTON - It's more than a grade, it's an all out challenge.
And those students who enter the Sikeston Science Fair mean business.
The junior and senior high school students spend countless hours on their project, finding themselves with little sleep and plenty of stress.
They must decide on a topic, draw up the plans, come up with how they're going to attack the problem, decide what is needed to come up with the answer and then implement it. But in the end they don't seem to mind, especially when their hard work pays off like it did for Aaron Klimmek and Kendra Riddle who each won a trophy for earning the most prestigious awards the Science Fair has to offer.
Klimmek, a junior, received the Most Outstanding Science Fair Project award for his project titled "Do Different Core Materials Affect the Strength of Electromagnets."
The 12-year-old said he wanted a project that no one else had done previously. "I worked about three months on it," he said. "I didn't dislike spending so much time on it, it was something I knew I had to do. I thought I'd win something but I never thought I'd win what I did."
Riddle's project, "Sodium Polyacrylate Polymers: A Study of Flood Control and Fire Prevention," earned the Murray G. Sullivan Award in the senior division.
"This one I actually started last year," said 18-year-old Riddle. "I did my project on flood control and fire prevention. I was hoping that I'd win something, but I surprised I won the Murray Sullivan Award."
Riddle said she started her project by obtaining polymers from a company in Hot Springs, Ark. As part of the project she used empty coffee single bags containing sand, polymer or sand and polymer that represented sand bags to form a levee. She then used a stream table to create a pond.
The purpose was to see if sodium polyacrylate polymer, also known as Super Absorbant Polymer or SAP, could absorb enough water to aid in fire prevention and flood control. She noted that super absorbant polymers found in products such as diapers and food packaging retain large amounts of water.
She found it took three minutes and 30 seconds for the polymer bags to leak and about four minutes for the bags containing sand and polymer to leak. It took over five minutes for the bags to become completely saturated.
If Riddle has her way, her discovery will win more than a high school science fair award. She has applied for a provisional patent for the use of the SAP in flood control, a process she said is expected to take about a year.
Although she said she has always been interested in science, she gives her dad much credit. "He's helped me tremendously," said Riddle, who has a partial scholarship at the University of Missouri-Rolla and is hoping for a full one. She is the first Sikeston student to ever win the trophy for the Most Outstanding Project two years in a row.
Last year Riddle made it to the International Science Fair in St. Jose, Calif., where she competed against students from all over the world. She is working hard toward that goal again this year.
The assignments are made at the beginning of the year but whether or not the students choose to get a jump start is up to them.
The 2002 Science Fair featured 119 junior division projects representing nine different categories and 107 senior division projects representing 10 different categories. The Missouri Department of Conservation sponsored first, second and third place plaques which were awarded in the junior and senior division in the conservation-related projects and the Standard Democrat sponsored a first, second and third place plaque awarded in the junior and senior divisions for students whose exhibits were judged to have had the most effective use of photography.
The idea, said Cliff Lankheit, is to teach the youths about setting goals, responsibility and being a good sport. Students also learn how to research a paper which will be beneficial to those who are college bound.
"We require a project in seventh grade and then they're required to do one in either ninth or tenth grade," said Lankheit, science fair director. "They take it seriously, it's a major part of their grade and not only that, it's important because everything on the new MAP test is what you do on a science fair project. This will teach students scientific methods, how to investigate, how to experiment, how to organize data and graphs and to analyze that data and come up with a conclusion. This will help them with anything to do with science in college and if they take any kind of college class that's the type of research they'll have to do."
As a result of the event, 38 Sikeston Public School Students, 14 from the junior division and 24 from the senior division, will now advance to the 46th annual Southeast Missouri Regional Science Fair set for March 12 at the Show-Me Center in Cape Girardeau.
"I think a lot of the reason our students do so well in this is their teachers, who are well versed in what it takes to do a science fair project and how to put it together. They spend so much time outside of class working in the labs with them. And then we have a lot of people in the community who help the students. Some of the students work with veterinarians and some work with doctors who help them with their projects. The kids work very hard and they do a really good job."