Riddles of the teen brain and more …

s A potato project featured at Family Science Night at Our Lady of Malibu. Photos by Devon Meyers

Students display a wide range of science projects at Our Lady of Malibu School Science Fair.

By Ward Lauren / Special to The Malibu Times

Scientific explorations and expositions on such fascinating and widely ranging conundrums as the teen brain, ambidextrous dogs, thinking horses, hatching chicks, mold growth in cheese, the energy in nuts and scores more were on display at the fourth annual Our Lady of Malibu School Science Fair last week.

All were the work of 80 students in grades five through eight who, either individually or in pairs, delved into a total of 70 projects chosen within four major disciplines: biological, physical, behavioral or Earth science. The final presentations at the fair were admirable not only for the variety of experimentation and conclusions, but also for the comprehensive and entertaining displays of their summary reports, which drew some 250 parents, siblings and guests to the event.

“I’m so proud of these students,” said Kathleen Ruse, head of the school Science Department, who explained that the students only began working on their projects in mid-January. “We teach the process of research here, and I think the Science Fair shows how very well they’re learning it.”

Ruse received assistance in conducting the program from parents Renee Lannutti and Nancy Laubach, both of whom had children preparing science projects. The final reports and presentations were then judged by five scientists from HRL Laboratories and one from Pepperdine University, and four levels of winners were awarded in each grade level.

The students tackled their projects in a variety of creative ways, some producing desired results while others were unexpected, but all adding to the youngsters’ learning curves. Fifth-grader Lexi Kyman, for example, who was interested in hatching chicks, started off with 25 eggs and was dismayed when only one hatched. It was later discovered that one egg was rotten; advisors surmised that the hydrogen sulfide gas it emitted permeated all the others but one. The project was a success, then, when “Shubert” was hatched.

Two students, sixth-grader Carolyn Pushaw and Vinnie Lannutti, eighth grade, were interested in hovercraft and independently constructed wooden models powered by leaf blower motors. Pushaw worked with small models to test the workability of different shapes. She discovered that either a square or circle would work, but a triangle was unstable. Lannutti built a four-foot circular platform that actually lifted his father into the air and treated kindergartners to rides the day before the fair.

Fifth-grader Caliegh Wells, whose family owns three horses, wondered what her horse was thinking, so she spent a month carefully observing the animal and noting the signals it gave off in different situations, such as when frightened, or when someone entered the stall or with other horses. Her report listed various reactions and physical signs, such as the tilt of the horse’s ears, which gave her an idea of what was going on in the animal’s mind.

Gina Rogari, now in the eighth grade, has been studying violin since the third grade. Her project dealt with the physics of sound in violin strings. Her written presentation was melodically enhanced by live performances throughout the evening as she played the instrument to demonstrate her technical findings.

Another eighth-grader, Paige Holbrook, was interested in the thinking process of “The Teen Brain,” so she put her own brain to use to develop a clever way to look into the subject. With the cooperation of six of her friends she researched the effects of varying amounts of sleep on their ability to solve problems. Over the length of her study she called them on the phone to wake them up at different hours of the night and gave them brief tests in three subjects: physics, language arts and math. The posted results did not include comments from her friends.

5th Grade

First place, a tie: Cole Thorell and Nick Hebb, “Plants and Ocean Water,” and Henry Mann, “Water and Electricity”

Second place: Sheena Paul and Bridget Ryan, “Global Warming”

Third place, a tie: Lexi Kyman, “Hatching Chicks,” and Caliegh Wells, “What Is My Horse Thinking?”

Fourth place (tie): Alana O’Herlihy, “Rainbows,” and Lara Keifer, “Comparing Drying Times of Different Fabrics”

6th Grade

First place: Carolyn Pushaw, “Hovercraft Aerodynamics”

Second place: Nicole McMahon, “Word Scramble”

Third place: Sean Sullivan, “Solid Core vs. Stranded”

Fourth place (tie): Katherine Rowan, “Eye on Iron,” and Julie Wullner-Manthy, “Ambidextrous Dogs”

7th Grade

First place: Chanel Lake, “How Much Energy Do Nuts Contain?”

Second place: Kira RajBhandary, “The Effects of Mold Growth on Different Types of Cheese”

Third place: Andrew Laubach, “Hybrid Systems”

Fourth place: Dedrick McCord, “Aerodynamics of Paper Airplanes”

8th Grade

First place: Tyler Robinson, “The Power of Friction”

Second place: Savannah Armour, “Reaction Time”

Third place (tie): Gina Rogari, “The Sound of Music,” and Katie Weinstock, “Sense of Smell and Taste”

Fourth place: Paige Holbrook, “The Teen Brain”