Recently, my wife and I volunteered as judges for the Hernando County Science and Engineering Fair's medicine and health entries. After a lapse of almost 15 years, I returned to judging and was pleasantly surprised to note the enthusiasm and passion among students to do science projects hadn't diminished.
It was, indeed, a heartwarming experience as we met and talked to the many bright young students interested in learning and understanding the scientific principles and laws governing our daily lives. The auditorium in the fairgrounds was abuzz with activity as more than 300 young scientists, some nervous, got ready for their presentations.
There were 135 projects, with 101 from middle school students and 34 from high school students. Fifty-seven students received awards and 24 students are headed to the state science fair in April.
The number and quality of entries in most categories was impressive, although there were fewer entries in the senior section than expected. All presented their projects eloquently with enthusiasm and clarity. Some confirmed their original hypothesis and others disproved their own theories. Either way, they gained tremendous knowledge and insight into how to conduct original research, develop appropriate data and come up with logical conclusions. And that is good for their future as well as for our nation.
At the junior level, one student's project was "Digging for iron'' about measuring the mineral's content in broccoli. How to better preserve fingerprinting with different solutions was the basis of another study. I am sure our police department and criminologists have taken note of that.
After measuring the lung capacity using spirometry in different sets of people, one young girl concluded that rap musicians have healthier lungs than non-musicians. "Energy release — which foods are better?'' was the topic of two studies. Did you know that cashews and almonds seem to release more calories than many other nuts and some fruits and hence are better for the body as energy boosters?
In the senior section, the study on cancer genome tried to identify the differences between cancerous and normal pancreatic tissue, concluding there is an over expression of nucleotides in the pancreatic cancer cell. The painful disease gout was the topic of research by a young man and he concluded that drinking cherry juice tends to decrease their uric acid levels and thus cuts down the frequency of the episodes. Hopefully, gout patients are listening. Variations in the rate of flow in plastic tubes of different gauges and its correlation to coronary artery disease with varying degrees of obstruction was an elegant study in the section of physics.
I asked some of the contestants, past and present, why they participated and what were the benefits. Some said the scientific research will help prepare them to be better college students. Other want careers in science, medicine or pharmacy and some are hoping for college scholarships.
Colleen Doulk, the chief science fair coordinator, said one student from our county presented a complex math project a few years ago. It was incomprehensible even to the judges and the student later got admission to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It is the culmination of a yearlong effort for many; for some, it is an ongoing project. I am happy that our school system is doing everything possible to promote the scientific curiosity and nurture the investigative minds of these young people. They do have tremendous potential to become great scientists and that is good for our country.
My own two children, products of the Hernando County schools, benefited superbly from continuous participation in science fairs organized by Craig Gates and the Florida Junior Academy of Sciences. It inspired both to become physicians. I only hope more students will participate in the senior section. This will certainly help them to get scholarships to prestigious colleges and Ivy League universities, leading to successful future careers.
Dr. M.P. Ravindra Nathan, a cardiologist, lives in Brooksville.