Adventures in Ethics and Science

Earlier this week, I got to judge projects at a Science Fair, which, as usual, was loads of fun.

This year, however, owing to budget cuts and staffing cuts and things like that, there will be no science fair at the sprogs’ elementary school. We are wistful about this, especially after the fun we had at their science fair last year. But just because there’s not a science fair this year doesn’t mean the sprogs are without questions they’d like to explore with science fair projects. As they were flitting about with their other activities, I got each of them to give me a list of three such questions.

From the elder Free-Ride offspring:

  1. What kind of soil do worms like best?
  2. What fruit makes the best battery?
  3. How does heat affect how fast a balloon deflates?

From the younger Free-Ride offspring:

  1. How did primates evolve into humans?
  2. How do you make pennies into green ones?
  3. Can people crawl into a volcano and come out alive?

Yes, some of these questions could use some refinement (and at least one looks like it could require approval of research with human subjects). But I’m having fun thinking about what kind of kid-ready experimental design could yield insight to some of these questions. (Also, thinking about the best metric for worm satisfaction.)


  1. #1 Laelaps
    March 19, 2010

    “Can people crawl into a volcano and come out alive?”

    Forget the science fair; that sounds like it could be a hit Discovery Channel series. It could air right after ‘Punkin’ Chunkin‘”.

  2. #2 Jared
    March 19, 2010

    I wonder if your younger sprog means an active volcano…

    But the “How did primates evolve into humans?” question is a bit difficult to address. I mean, pedantically, humans and all of our ancestors (from the Cretaceous onwards) are primates. Perhaps a discussion relating to the past 20 million years would be sufficient?

    I rather like the pennies experiment, but rather than using pennies, perhaps copper tubes could be used since a single large piece can be easily acquired allowing for all pieces to be at equal levels of corrosion at the beginning of the experiment? Different oxidizers could be used as well as exposure to different gaseous oxygen levels at varying temperatures (small disposable O2 tanks are pretty cheap).

    As for the elder progeny, perhaps “the best organic acid” would be a more appropriate, since fruits have high variability between individuals and by ripeness. This would, of course, require purification of said acids, but learning some of the more advanced methods is partially where the fun comes in.

  3. #3 Laura
    March 21, 2010

    Hmm. Nematode worms are capable of displaying a food preference, so I don’t see why you couldn’t measure soil preference. More time spent ‘roaming’ in a soil could indicate that they don’t like it, whereas more ‘dwelling’ indicates that they do?

  4. #4 Uncle Fishy
    March 23, 2010

    The younger sprog surely knows someone who has climbed into an active volcano.

  5. #5 RMD
    March 26, 2010

    Yes, it’s true. But it was a *mud* volcano. The mud was warm but not hot. It’s near Cartagena, Colombia. Here’s a link that works:
    I’ll send you a photo that will blow the Sprogs’ minds…

New comments have been disabled.