What causes a tornado? Why do we see a rainbow? What chemicals will change the Ph of a cabbage? Interested parties want to know!
Wriggling earthworms choose dirt in science test 052213 NEWS 1 For the Capital City Weekly What causes a tornado? Why do we see a rainbow? What chemicals will change the Ph of a cabbage? Interested parties want to know!

Photo By Carla Petersen

Thorne Bay students Caleb Hughes and Jake Cottrell pose with their hand-made potato gun and tennis ball ammo in front of their science fair exhibit.

Photo By Carla Petersen

Whale Pass students Jared Cook and Hannah Gunkel exhibit their spot-on bow sight at the regional science fair in Juneau.

Click Thumbnails to View
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Story last updated at 5/22/2013 - 2:03 pm

Wriggling earthworms choose dirt in science test

What causes a tornado? Why do we see a rainbow? What chemicals will change the Ph of a cabbage? Interested parties want to know!

Such were a few of the questions posed by students from around Prince of Wales Island who merged at the Thorne Bay School to display their investigations in the Southeast Island School District Science Fair. Parents and friends crowded the room among clipboard-packing judges to examine their scientific efforts.

In one project, 14 earthworm researchers displayed graph paper charts, covered with umpteen little squiggly shapes, tracking worm activity. Using the age-old scientific method of asking a question, formulating a hypothesis, conducting experiments, then drawing a conclusion based on the study, the students were practicing scientists.

The question: Given the chance, will earthworms move from one type of soil to another? The first- and second-graders predicted that they would. Four different kinds of soil were arranged in trays where earthworms could roam freely. Worms were added, and then counted daily and their movements charted.

"The science fair is a wonderful way for kids to have hands-on experience with nature around them," said Kathy Shirley, their teacher. "Every question is scientific inquiry."

After two weeks, the young students discovered that their prediction was correct. Except for 19 lost worms, all but two in forest soil went to the compost and stayed there.

"The earthworms loved that kind of dirt!" said first-grader Emily Duffield.

Students from kindergarten through high school demonstrated their knowledge of astronomy, electricity, gravity, horticulture, marine biology, and weather, including not one, but two classic exploding volcanoes and a study about the dissimilar tastes of cookies baked at different temperatures.

Thorne Bay seventh-graders Caleb Hughes and Jake Cottrell wanted to know which flammable liquids - hair spray, cooking spray, Axe spray or air freshener, would best power their PVC potato gun. After numerous tests, they concluded that Axe spray sent their tennis balls the furthest on average. Asked what they learned, Hughes said, "These products are not extremely dangerous normally but can be when ignited in an enclosed area."

Some students went to extremes to attend the science fair. Determined Port Protection students Jedidiah Near, Jacob O'Neil and WenChang Yang, along with teacher Rocky Near and resident Timothy (Curley) Leach, took it upon themselves to shovel more than 300 yards of deep snow that blocked the road they needed to travel to reach Thorne Bay. Port Protection is snowed in all winter every year until the spring melt or residents decide to shovel the pass. The team shoveled hard for eight hours and used an old truck to help break through the icy crust but they got the road opened. Oddly enough, at the science fair, they learned that it had been snowing again for a few days and wondered if they would have to shovel their way back over the pass to get home.

After taking Best of Show at last year's science fair, Whale Pass students Jared Cook and Hannah Gunkel took their "Spot on Bow Sight" project to the regional science fair in Juneau this year, winning the People's Choice Award, the Juneau Economic Development Council's Award and the Territorial Sportsman Award. Designed using complicated mathematical equations; the sight uses lasers that allow an archer to shoot without knowing the distance to the target.

Along with the science fair event, Thorne Bay School was a busy place with other Education Day functions happening simultaneously. There were art and Earth Day activities along with a simulated financial challenge for high school students to learn about income and spending choices.

Racers competed in a Pinewood Derby Contest with an amazing array of colorful, hand carved and decorated cars. The talent show featured music on guitar, drums, and piano, singing, dancing and even a hula hoop demonstration; delighting the large audience that cheered them on.

A substantial number of spectators circulated throughout the school and grounds all day, enjoying the various events. Parents, teachers and community members alike couldn't help showing their pride at the sensational achievements displayed by students of all ages.

Carla Petersen writes from Thorne Bay. She is a freelance writer and artist. Visit her website at or she can be reached at