Young scientists take projects to next level

Published 7:50 am Friday, February 18, 2011

Neveln fifth-grader Abby Swigerd shows off her experiment on "What Temperature is Yeast Most Active" to judge Terry Dorsey during the elementary's science fair Thursday. - Eric Johnson/

Some know about static electricity. Others learn about cancer. Some test out the latest cleaning products while others measure how well de-icers work.

This year’s science fairs throughout Austin Public Schools brought a bevy of experiments and natural curiosity to life as third- through sixth-graders all had the chance to compete for a spot at the South Central/Southwest Minnesota Regional Science and Engineering Fair.

Neveln fifth-grader Caitlin Kaercher tells judge Sinto Sebastian about her science project, "How Are The Side Effects of Chemotheraphy Caused by Dosage and Type of Disease" Thursday afternoon. - Eric Johnson/

“It’s a really good opportunity to have a hands-on experience with the scientific method,” said Amanda Bremner, Austin’s gifted and talented coordinator.

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Students from all four elementary schools and sixth graders at Ellis Middle School participated over the last two weeks, designing projects, creating charts and graphs and putting together boards.

Some, like Miguel Diaz Ubaldo, a fourth grader at Neveln Elementary School, pour months into their projects. Diaz Ubaldo tested what the shortest time required to produce quality daffodil blooms was, planting and tending his bulbs under several conditions and enjoying every minute of it. Although Diaz Ubaldo got the idea from a friend whose father could no longer take care of his daffodils, he’s enjoyed the experiment so much he wants to work with plants when he grows up.

“I really like working in a greenhouse,” Diaz Ubaldo said with a smile during Neveln’s Science Fair Thursday. He took first place in the third- and fourth-grade division.

Diaz Ubaldo wasn’t the only one curious about life around him. Caitlin Kaercher, a fifth-grader at Neveln, wanted to find out more about chemotherapy after her mother Stacy Kaercher became sick. At the same time, a friend of Stacy’s was diagnosed with breast cancer. Caitlin wanted to know how chemotherapy affected each person after watching her mother go through treatment.

“She got a lot of side effects,” Caitlin said.

After recording how many doses each patient got of their respective chemotherapy drugs, Caitlin asked each patient to identify the side effects they were experiencing and at what point in their treatment they felt them. Kaercher not only won first place in Neveln’s fifth-grade division, she was also recognized by the Hormel Institute, receiving its Outstanding Research Award, an award each school’s participants can earn.

“(I was) surprised,” Caitlin said.

Caitlin and Diaz Ubaldo will join 32 other Austin students at this year’s regional science fair, which will be held in Mankato on April 30. Austin has a history of doing well at the regional fair, according to Bremner.

Although it’s nice to win, students still walked away with a deeper appreciation of science and how it affects a community. Chloe Sheehan, a fourth grader at Neveln, tested the properties of hot and cold water, finding out which was more likely to leak as she’s interested in water conservation.

“My favorite animal is a fish and I don’t want it to go into extinction,” she said.