If a science fair conjures up images of baking-soda volcanos, think again, because Delaware students are upping their game.
Students in grades 5-12 participated in the Delaware City School District's science fair last week at Dempsey Middle School.
Students who received a superior rating are eligible to attend the North Central District Science Day March 16 at Ohio State University's Marion campus.
Deb Bogard, Dempsey science teacher and science fair coordinator, said students have moved beyond simple experiments and are doing real work.
"These students are walking in the steps of a research scientist," she said. "They're doing the same things a scientist would do by doing background research, literature review, designing an experiment and collecting and analyzing data."
Students choose a topic, stumble through problems and figure it out, learn to reach out for additional resources and collaborate with other researchers, she said.
Bogard said there was a wide variety of projects this year that focused on health and medicine, chemistry, physics and even product testing.
Some of the projects moving on to the next level include those that tested the failure rate of sandwich bags, checked the accuracy of calories listed on food labels, researched alternative energy sources, tested the effect of heat on hand sanitizers, and examined the effectiveness of base-isolation systems.
Over the years, Bogard said, science fair projects have evolved from simple research papers and demonstrations into experimental and engineering projects.
Science fairs have been a school staple for decades, Bogard said, and were jump-started in the 1950s when the U.S. was pushing science on students in order to compete with other countries' scientific endeavors, such as Russia's space program.
Since that time, the projects have become much more elaborate, and nonprofit groups often have made it possible for students to have access to laboratories and science mentors in order to level the playing field for all students.
One nonprofit organization called Science Buddies has a website that provides students with the ability to "Ask an Expert" while they working on their projects.
Bogard said students who participate in science fairs learn life skills in addition to facts about their study topic.
"Students are learning time-management, how to collaborate with others, how to persist amidst problems and how to present a project orally," she said. "They are also learning skills such as writing, researching and analyzing data that are amazingly helpful in their future life."
Bogard said these skills look good to college recruiters, and many students who participate in science fairs are eligible for scholarships, internships and monetary awards.
"Colleges look positively on students who participate in science fairs because they have the skills they are looking for, such as motivation, persistence and collaboration ability," she said.
Bogard said she encourages all her students to consider participating in the science fair, adding it can turn into a great hobby.
"I tell all my students that this can be a sport for you in high school," she said. "Not everyone has athletic ability, but if you have science skills, you can still compete."