Science on display at Fairland

Published 11:01 pm Saturday, January 24, 2009

PROCTORVILLE — Want to know how many varieties are in your Heinz 57 dog?

It’s as easy as checking out his or her DNA. The swabbing down the inside of Mr. Mutt’s mouth might get to you. But it’s all in the name of science. At least that’s how Shefali Shah looked at it.

Figuring out the ancestry of her neighbors’ canines was the focus of “Scooby Doo, What Are You?” her science project for this year’s Fairland High School’s science fair.

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Shah joined her fellow students Friday as they presented their entries to the judges. There were 24 critically reviewing the projects — all were professionals, either Fairland staff, Marshall University professors or staff from the Marshall School of Medicine.

Borrowing the pets of seven neighbors, Shah took check cell samples, then decoded their DNA and compared against a database of 180 breeds. It was a fun project but there was a special plus to her research. Tracking down the exact kinds of dogs inside your dog could help solve stubborn medical problems. That’s one of the residual benefits that came out of Shah’s research.

This year’s science fair drew close to 80 entries from 9th to 12 grades at the school. For seven years co-sponsor Tim Hayes at Fairland, along with Ron King, has worked with his students on science fairs. In fact, he requires participation by all of his freshman students.

“It gives them self confidence,” Hayes said. “They have to talk to professionals. It teaches them responsibility and a good work ethic.”

Dalton Froelich, a junior, got 60 willing subjects to don a bicycle helmet graced with dowel rods. He next took different colored cards attached to the rods and moved then until the card was picked up by the subject’s peripheral vision. That was to show which colors are more easily seen by side sight.

Froelich, who right now is weighing careers between nursing and broadcasting, finds he has a natural affinity for science.

Participating in the fair “teaches you responsibility,” he said. “It is all you. You have to rely on yourself. You can’t blame it off on anyone else.”

Freshman Victoria Hutchison analyzed the kind of possible buzz you could get from a chocolate bar, a Mountain Dew and an energy drink. Kirstin Midkiff, a senior, got her girlfriends to play guinea pigs as far as what made legs smoother: a razor or that yucky cream.

The projects are done partly for more knowledge; partly for a grade; and partly to compete for top honors. Those getting the latter move onto the regional competition at Shawnee State University and then to the state contest in Columbus.

Getting that score depends on a variety of criteria, according Ken Ratliff, Fairland administrative assistant/technology coordinator.

“It’s a certain level of sophistication. If they incorporate the scientific method and how well they communicate those aspects of (the method),” he said.

Rob Hinshaw is a veteran science fair participant spending months on his projects. That experience has paid off.

“I feel more comfortable speaking to people and have a feel on how to write research,” he said.