SANDPOINT — Only during the annual Science Circuit are Sandpoint High School students encouraged to play with fire.
Each year, the event is off with a bang as a tiny flame is touched to a balloon filled with hydrogen gas, creating a brief, yet impressive, fireball. In addition, this year's event on Thursday included "fire bubbles" in a demonstration of methane gas and an experiment in fire retardants.
There were plenty of projects, however, that did not involve fire, such as UV radiation, angular momentum, chemical reactions, ecosystems and more. To demonstrate the laws of conservation, one group tied a bowling ball from a strap to a basketball hoop in the SHS gymnasium and stuck a chair to one side. Kids from area elementary schools would sit down, hold the ball and then let it go.
"They are holding it up and it creates potential energy in the bowling ball," explained SHS senior Dutt Rogers. "Then when they drop it, gravity acts on it and turns it into kinetic energy building up momentum in the bowling ball. The momentum carries it up to the other side, where gravity can act on it again and it keeps going back and forth. Laws of conservation tell us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, so by that theory, the bowling ball should keep going forever."
Friction and air resistance are then taken into account, Rogers said, and as the ball would swing back toward the kids, each one would lean back to avoid it — even though there was no chance the ball would hit them in their position.
SHS juniors Niah Brass and Kieran Wilder demonstrated how acid rain negatively affects aquatic ecosystems. Brass and Wilder set up two aquariums with live fish. One was a "neutral" environment, while in the other, lemon juice was added to simulate the acidic nature of acid rain. Brass said a pH of seven is neutral and healthy, but the lower the pH, the more acidic it is. The acidic water was at a pH of 5.8, which she said was getting close to being all the fish could handle.
"Even the plants are starting to turn yellow," she said. "We had ghost shrimp ... but the ghost shrimp are even more sensitive to pH than the bass, so they didn't survive."
As it is abundant in North Idaho, SHS senior Erin Meek studied snow metamorphism, which is the study of how the snow interacts between different layers and how that changes in the span of a season, affecting avalanche danger. Meek said there are two basic types of snow metamorphosis — rounding and faceting. The faceting layers typically create angular snow bonds, she said, which cause "persistent weak layers in the snow pack." Those are created by rain crusts or a range of elements that the snow was exposed to, and is where avalanches typically start, she said.
The Science Circuit is centered around STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. SHS honors chemistry, physics and AP environmental science students spent the school year researching their topics for Thursday's event and, in turn, taught it to the younger generation of students who toured the circuit throughout the day on Thursday, followed by a public event in the evening. This year's Science Circuit was sponsored by the Panhandle Alliance for Education.
SHS science teacher and event organizer Mamie Brubaker said the reason behind the event is to encourage students to learn about STEM opportunities, because they are "the jobs of the future."
"Percentage-wise, the field is growing faster than any other," Brubaker said. "I think to help students see those possibilities and maybe help dispel some of the myths that they might have about what a scientist does ... they are much more likely to think of it as a possibility for them.
Over the past years, the Science Circuit has raised over $10,000 in grants and donations from community members that has strengthened the science curriculum at the high school and made the Science Circuit a possibility for students. This year's Science Circuit was sponsored by the Panhandle Alliance for Education.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.