GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Michael Chen, a 16-year-old Junior at Ridgeview High School, was walking along a sidewalk near his home one day when it struck him that the water stored within leaves falling beside him could be used for drinking. It was this idea that led him to create an experiment that would land him a spot at the Clay County Science Fair on Feb. 12.
“I read about the [Ugandan] water crisis and was trying to come up with ideas to solve it,” Chen said. “Then one day, while walking down the street, I looked at these leaves and thought, ‘wow, why don’t we just take the water out of the leaves?”
That’s what Chen’s science experiment strived to prove, and it proved it indeed. Chen was one of hundreds competing in the Clay County Science Fair with hopes of moving forward to the state fair. While most project findings fit within the standard project cardboard, Chen’s reached higher than almost any other board. One of the most important pieces of his experiment, a solar still, was so large – more than six feet in width and length – that it had to be placed off to the side.
The still was the piece of the project that brought Chen’s hypothesis to life. Chen theorized that Pennisetum Purpureum, or Elephant Grass, stored enough water in its plant structure to provide gallons and gallons of water to those in need, such as the people of Uganda.
The solar still would store plants and reflect heat in such a way that the area where the plants were stored would reach over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, transpiration would occur which would see the plants release their stored water. The still would catch this water and it’s this water than could be drinkable.
“In Uganda, they’ve been trying to fix this problem for a very long time but because the long-term solutions for things like this are related to government, problem solvers are often up against corruption,” Chen said. “This [corruption] has been holding back development in these areas...and it leads to a cycle that they can’t escape. I want this to be a solution that can empower the people of Uganda to give them the ability and access to water using the plants they already have.”
While Chen’s experiment hopes to solve larger-scale problems, 14-year-old Lake Asbury Elementary eighth grader Paola Guzman’s experiment hits a little closer to home.
Guzman made it to the Clay County Science Fair last year where she showed off an experiment involving organic shampoo. This year, her experiment remained just as organic but instead of experimenting with products that go on her head, she experimented with something she likes to eat – bread.
“Last year I did science fair too and I did organic shampoo so this year I wanted to keep going with the idea of organic things,” Guzman said. “I really like the idea of having healthier stuff going into your body and knowing exactly what you’re putting into your body, like bread.”
Usually, bread is made with yeast, but Guzman came up with the idea to place yeast with fruit juice related products. According to Guzman, sugar is what helps the yeast react to help create bread. Wanting to put something more organic into the products she eats, Guzman hypothesized that organic fruits like apples would yield a cleaner and healthier sugar that allows bread to become bread.
In the end, it turned out that the traditional process for making bread came out on top, but not by a high enough margin to discourage Guzman from trying something different.
“I think a fruit with a higher sugar content, like pineapple, could actually beat it out,” Guzman said.
That experiment will have to wait until next year, where Guzman is confident she’ll be competing amongst high schoolers.