"It's cool," said seventh-grader Dustin Ammann when he found out he won Best of Show at the 2001 Rim Country Middle School Science Fair last weekend.
While Dustin was excited about the win, his parents, Alan and Karen Ammann, weren't surprised. "He likes to build things," said Karen, "and he takes apart computers and puts them back together all the time."
Dustin's project asked the burning question, "What type of filament makes a light bulb the brightest?"
To find the answer, Dustin said, "I built a light bulb and tested different filaments a coil of wire, a strand of wire and steel wool."
The winner was the coil of wire, which is something another inventive guy named Thomas Edison also proved once upon a time.
All 650 middle school students are required to participate in the science fair, said eighth-grade science teacher Gloria Joe, who has spent her entire career all 21 years teaching at the same school.
"We've required that they all participate for years because we believe kids need to do original problem solving," Joe said.
Students enter one of eight categories, and compete for first, second, third and honorable-mention honors in each category. Each entry is evaluated by a panel of 52 judges.
Each student must pose a question, solve it by means of an experiment, collect and graph data, and then analyze the data and come to a conclusion.
Some 20 to 25 of the winners will go on to compete in a regional science fair at Arizona State University.
Those who took first-place honors in each of the eight categories are:
Caitlin Fruth in behavioral science, who investigated how music affects thinking;
Andrew Sanders in botany, who asked what kind of light helps plants grow best;
P.J. Prest in chemistry, who investigated which type of wax burns fastest;
Brianna Quinlan in conservation/ ecology, who looked into which household appliances decompose fastest in a landfill;
Jonny Malloy in earth/space science, who examined whether the wind blows harder in Payson or on the Mogollon Rim;
Nick Ford in health sciences, who wondered if people with light colored eyes are more sensitive to light;
Bailley Wholly in physics, who wondered if the heat of wire affects its magnetism; and,
Cashe Owens in zoology, who looked into how frequently fish breathe in different types of water.
Other interesting questions posed by those whose projects placed among the best in each category included which paw cats use first; how mustard stains affect different fabrics; whether Payson, Star Valley or Gisela has the worst pollution; which Nintendo game affects heart rate the most; what lubricant makes rollerblades go fastest; and which animal has the most bacteria in its mouth.
Joe, who said she enjoys working with children at an age when they're undergoing a variety of developmental changes, said participating in a science fair can be a meaningful experience.
"It's one thing that shows what a kid is really capable of doing, and 10 years from now, when you don't remember anything else from your middle school years, you'll remember what you did for a science fair project.
"We want it to be a memory for them," she said.