Weird Science

On Friday I went to judge a grade 6 science fair at a local school. I have judged regional science fairs a few times in Maple Ridge and Vancouver, but this was the first time in Sweden. Apparently, it was the first time for the Swedes too; this was the first Science fair at the school and most of the Swedish teachers and students had never participated in one before. Luckily (or not), there was lots of guidance from the internet, so there were lots of volcanoes and melting-ice-insulation-tests. There were some great projects, favourites included a great paper airplane demonstration and a bacteria incubation test of handwashing and hand sanitizers (yay hygiene!)

There were also a few ‘opportunities for education’. I wouldn’t want to turn any of these kids off science on their first go, so I tried to ask good questions so they could think through where they might have gone wrong. One kid had a passionate explanation of how microwaved water kills plants because the microwave ‘kills’ the energy in the water and plants can’t survive without energy. I asked if microwaved water that went down the drain and then evaporated and rain back into the city’s water supply was still dead. This seemed to induce more fear for the future of agriculture than suspicion about the internet-based theory. My personal favourite ‘opportunity’ was an epidemiological study comparing activity levels in men and women using a pedometer. You have to admire the grade 6 students who goes for epidemiology over a volcano. However, there was still some distance to travel. My favourite part was the sample size: one grade 6 boy and one grade 6 girl. The conclusions were pretty sweeping: all men are more active than all women due to their larger size, athleticism, etc. I asked him if there could possibly be any other difference between the boy and the girl tested, and whether men would always be more active than women every time, every day you tested. Maybe this planted some seeds for future population health literacy?


  1. I love this post so much. It captures so much of what is great about you – that you would go and hang out with 6th graders, that you support science education, that you’re not standing up pronouncing wrong-ness, but helped them get there on their own with inquiry and exploration. I suspect you have planted seeds for much more than just health literacy. Good on ya!

  2. Yes, I second the excellent comments from Bridget! To that I add my concern at the hypothesis that microwaved water loses energy and kills plants – yikes! Never heard of that before. Have you seen the “Nine-minute beat poem” by Tim Minchin?

    There’s a nice bit towards the end about water and “memory.” I’ve heard that some people make passionate arguments that you CANNOT microwave-boil water for tea – just simply wrong and tastes different. I think it’s fascinating where cultural and scientific subjectivity/objectivity cross paths. I wonder how a scientific study of that tea hypothesis might look…

  3. I should perhaps add that there is some use of “language” in the youtube clip.

Comments are closed.