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Discovering fun of science

Thirteen-year-old Lori Brown made an important discovery with her science fair project this year.

She concluded that those house plants in your window would grow better if they were spinning at 33 rpm on the stereo turntable _ or, more accurately, that plants grow better when exposed to centrifugal force.

But the Crystal River Middle School pupil acknowledged that her newly discovered plant-growing procedure has some drawbacks. "I think they got kind of confused because they didn't know where to look for the light," she said.

All around the Crystal River Armory on Tuesday, Citrus middle and high school students were explaining their insights into solutions to scientific problems ranging from the movement of stars to the amount of iron in well water.

The event was the annual Citrus Regional Science and Engineering Fair, which featured about 160 projects selected from schools throughout the county. They vied for the attention of about 45 judges, who were selecting which ones might win awards or go on to state and international competitions later this spring.

The public may see the projects today from 9 a.m. through 8 p.m. at the Armory on Seven Rivers Drive, just east of U.S. 19. The awards ceremony begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Curtis Peterson Auditorium in Lecanto.

On Tuesday, the pressure of being judged made for a roomful of nervous young people.

Inverness Middle School student Andrew Cross, 13, kept glancing at the judges moving toward his project as he explained how he used piping filled with dirt to determine the amount of household chemicals that could leak into Florida's underwater water supply.

Beside him, 12-year-old classmate Kim Gates was talking about her experiment to discover whether the destruction of the world's rain forests is depleting the planet's oxygen supply.

Crystal River Middle School student Shannetta Murray, 13, checked out the growth of crystals. "It was fun," she said.

In the senior division, projects boasted names like "Aluminum and Your Health" or "Amino Acids Under Thermal Conditions in Relation to Peptide Bonding."

Dave Soluri, co-director of the science fair, admitted that this year's competition has many highly technical projects.

"The level of science has become very technical, and the students have learned that technical projects do much better" in the higher levels of competition, he said. "We're having real trouble picking projects for the state" because so many are qualified.

Citrus High School senior Knute Lingaard's project was entitled, "The Effects of High Frequency AC Annealing on Irradiating Microprocessors."

The 18-year-old said he used high electrical currents to try to repair computer chips damaged in high radiation. The idea came from the malfunctioning robots used by the Soviet Union to try to clean up the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl several years ago.

While Lingaard wasn't completely successful, he said that finding a way to repair the robots could save lives and have many applications in space.

But he learned other things, too. "You learn not to give up and you keep finding new solutions to problems," he said.

Soluri agreed. "We want them to have the ability to solve problems, which is what their whole life is going to be about when they get out of here," he said.