PUBLISHED: 4:18 PM on Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Students take on projects for the annual science fair

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  From left: Juneau-Douglas High School science teacher Jonathan Smith with freshmen Haley Nelson, Grayson Carlile and Iris Neary.
Ever wonder the affects of aspartame on ants, how humpback whales adjust to the seasons or the soil chemistry left from the remains of mining? Those might be thoughts that crossed your mind, but Juneau-Douglas High School students have spent several hours conducting the research to find the answers as part of participating in the Southeast Alaska Science Fair, which is Friday and Saturday, March 16-17.

"It teaches you what science is like in the real world, and what scientists do to see if that's a career path you want to take," said freshman Grayson Carlile, who studied the affects of vegetation in areas where Treadwell Mine was once in production.

Iris Neary, freshman, conducted her experiment on how the time of year affects the presence of humpback whales in the area.

"It's a long term project so you develop a lot of respect for it," Neary said. "It's been good to learn how it's crucial to make sure that you space out data, set aside time and don't wait to the last minute. It wouldn't work if you put things off."

JDHS science teacher Jonathan Smith is on the fair board and said participation in the event is required from freshmen and sophomores in advanced science classes. He said the once small regional fair is now a state fair and winners qualify for the international science fair May 13-18, in Albuquerque, N.M.

"I'm constantly amazed with the quality of projects we see each year," Smith said.

Freshman Haley Nelson used four ant farms to test the affects of aspartame. She said she chose the subject because diabetes runs in her family and she wanted to learn more about the sugar substitute.

"I wanted to do something that was a concern on a national level," Nelson said.

Each student is paired with a mentor from the community to conduct the project.

"These are scientists in our community. We have so many willing scientists in our community," Smith said. "Science is not a bunch of facts from a book. It's a process and the only way to see it is to be out in the field."

Other projects include the topics of wildlife and the modifying of a car to run off of French fry oil.

JDHS senior Vince Wagner knows what the younger students are dealing with in not only conducting research but in presenting their projects to be judged.

"The fair itself is a lot of fun and makes all of the work worth it. By that point you're very vested in your project," Wagner said. "The judging is fun because you know enough at that point to have an intellectual discussion that you couldn't have before you started your work."

Projects will be available for public viewing from 5-8:30 p.m. Friday, March 16, and from noon-1 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at Marie Drake Gym.

Also in the science program at JDHS, students for the first time had an opportunity to travel to the Alaska Statewide High School Science Symposium with the aid of a grant. Placing third in the symposium were Haley Summer and Sierra Gadaire with their project "How discrete concentrations of Zinc Sulfate and Tributyl in seawater affect the percentage of successful Fucus offspring."

The students will advance to the national symposium May 3-8, in Huntsville, Ala.