AMES, Iowa -- Curiosity has been taking Iowa's young scientists all over the scientific spectrum this year.
Just look at a few of the research titles featured at this year's 50th State Science and Technology Fair of Iowa March 30 and 31 at Iowa State University's Hilton Coliseum: "Is Your Sweet Corn Sweetest at Sunrise?" "Ethanol: Friend or Foe," "Mold Retold," "Rust or No Rust?" "Mouth Bacteria in Canis familiaris," "The Levels of E. coli in Lee County Creeks," and "pHatal to Foliage."
Laura Alt, a 12-year-old seventh grader at Nevada Middle School, calls her project, "Enzymes: The Workhorses of the Cell."
Alt learned a little about enzymes in her life science textbook and decided to make a science fair project out of the lesson. So she picked two enzymes -- lactase and catalase -- and tested them to see how they'd work under different temperatures and different levels of acidity or basicity.
"Basically, enzymes are biological catalysts that speed up chemical reactions," she said. "And when lactase is in acidic conditions it works better. When catalase is in basic conditions it works better."
And, Alt said, lactase can tolerate higher temperatures than catalase.
You can read all about it on Alt's display board at the science fair.
"I'm hoping to place well," she said of the competition. "But I know there will be a lot of projects there."
Andrea Spencer, the director of the state science and technology fair, said the nearly 550 sixth graders through high schoolers at this year's event will be the most since the fair moved to Iowa State about 10 years ago. The students will be competing for more than $60,000 in awards and prizes, including $35,000 in scholarships. The top high school team and the top two high school individuals will win expenses-paid trips to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Albuquerque, N.M., in May.
The state science and technology fair is free and open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, March 30; 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 31; and 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday for the fair's award ceremony.
A special feature of this year's anniversary fair will be a reception for alumni of the fair from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. Alumni will also be recognized during the award ceremony.
Justin Morton, the seventh grade life science teacher at Nevada Middle School and Alt's teacher, said his school is taking 19 students to the science fair because it's a great way to teach science.
"The biggest reason we do this is because it's important to incorporate the scientific method into our curriculum," he said. "The scientific method is such a big part of life. What better way to learn about it than by doing a science fair project?"
Iowa State University is the host of the State Science and Technology Fair of Iowa. Other sponsors include the Iowa Energy Center, the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, the Iowa Biotechnology Association, the Iowa State College of Agriculture, Monsanto Co., and the colleges of engineering at Iowa State and the University of Iowa.
For more information, see http://www.sstfi.iastate.edu/homepage.shtml.