SHIRLEY -- The 79 science projects displayed last week at the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School Science Fair ranged from an investigation of the solubility of polystyrene in an organic solvent, to which potato chip is the least greasy, to the discovery that a hypertonic solution will cause plasmolysis -- the loss of water from cells -- in celery.
In other words, the air trapped in Styrofoam is released when its polymer strands dissolve in acetone, Lays and Ruffles are greasy snacks, and celery becomes limp in salt water.
In a gymnasium full of students, parents, siblings, friends and teachers last Friday night, 21 sixth-graders presented 13 projects, 33 seventh-graders presented 19 projects, and 166 eighth-graders presented 47 projects to be judged and admired.
According to sixth-grade teacher Mary Ford, science fair participation was a requirement for eighth-graders, and voluntary but strongly encouraged for those in grades 6 and 7.
All participants warmly greeted visitors and were eager to discuss their projects.
Eighth-graders Casey Meagan and Jessica Warila explained how they determined the relative Vitamin C content of various citrus fruits via redox titration with an iodine solution.
Using the scientific method, they performed three trials and averaged the results. The order from highest to lowest concentration of Vitamin C, they concluded, was orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime, and tangerine.
Grade seven students Bryce Valliere and Jason Langlais were interested in finding out which material could most quickly melt ice: "ice melt," salt, sand, sugar, or flour.
The two concluded that ice melt lowers the freezing point of water better than any of the other substances alone.
Sixth-graders Abigail Clemence, Dé Jah Fleurancois, and Samantha Adams had, by far, the best-smelling project. All chocolate lovers, their question was which type of chocolate -- dark, milk, or white -- has the lowest melting point.
Through their research, they learned that the melting point of chocolate can be affected by many things, and that white chocolate is not actually chocolate; rather, it is a product of cocoa butter, milk, and sugar that contains only very small amounts of or no cocoa solids at all.
The dark chocolate melted in the double boiler the fastest, because it contained more cocoa and fewer additives than the other two chocolates, the girls concluded.
The judges for the event, which was sponsored by the Ayer Shirley Education Foundation and Bristol-Myers Squibb, were the school's science teachers and a special-education teacher.
When the fair was over and all of the projects had been evaluated, winners for each grade level were announced and awarded cash prizes. In the sixth grade, first place went to Dana Maloney for "The Real Vampires: They Suck Electricity, Not Blood." Second place went to Clemence, Fleurancois and Adams for "Chocolate Melting Point," and third place was awarded to Anna Pedreschi and Rhyschel Perez for "Short Term Memory."
Seventh-grade top winners were, in first place, Valliere and Langlais for "Melting Ice"; in second, Fiona Kelly for "Colorful People"; and, in third, Alana Miska for "Which Laundry Detergent Has the Best Value?"
The top eighth-grade prizewinners were, in first place, Joshua Andrews for "The Difference Between Us," Amanda Martin and Eliza Cuoco for "Mind Reader," and Michael Kelly for "Relaxing Rhythm."
The top 10 scorers overall have the opportunity to attend the Northeast Regional Middle School Science & Engineering Fair at Lowell High School on Saturday, April 12. They include those listed above plus sixth-graders Mackenzie Marshall, Sierra Simmons and Emily Gravelle for "You Wear What You Eat."
"ASEF continues to support the Middle School Science Fair because we believe in the importance of providing all students the opportunity to shine academically," said ASEF Board of Directors member Paula Gravelle. "Following on the heels of stellar sports seasons and the District Arts Fair, the Science Fair showcases the academic strength of our students and ultimately shows off the well-rounded nature of our district."