Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Weird Science!

Over at Mormon Mommy Wars there's a discussion about a lot of random things, and the dreaded Science Fair Project.

This brought back those years in our life when the kids were up to their ears in volcanic anticipation. We were given a huge amount of great information and eventually our kid earned the school, then district, then 2nd in state. He actually did the majority of the work. I, on the other hand did a LOT of testing, driving, and photography. And as you will see later, a lot of talking the kids out of a trip to Disneyworld, which actually was part of the experiment.

Our dilemma was solved via our #1's oncologist, who suggested a "medical" experiment. She asked him a few questions and after a few minutes they decided on the question:

"Can just one cigarette hurt me?"

He made his guess (hypothesis!) -a misguided "no, just one cigarette wouldn't hurt." and we began.

First stop, The American Lung Association. We made an appointment to talk with a representative then drove an hour to get to the nearest office. She gave him numerous pamphlets to read and get information from, and a stack of freebies to add to his display as hand outs. That was genius! The information he got from the pamphlets taught him how the lungs work with the heart and blood stream, and how chemicals from everything we put in our bodies (via food, drink or air) went throughout the entire body. I read them all also and tested him so that he understood what the heck he would be talking about and experimenting for.

She also gave him facts on air intake, lung capacity, and biology of a teen-aged lung. Granted, the "teens" were a few years off, but so was the average age of the first cigarette (back in those days).

The representative told him how the numbers of lung capacity could be converted in to ounces, and how he could make a "lung" from an empty dish soap bottle, plastic fish tank tubing (with the diameter equal to the size of a cigarette so it would fit snuggly inside), and plasticine clay. She gave him the numbers he needed to make a lung, throat, and mouth equal to the size of a 12 -15 year old.

Then we set out to purchase our supplies: the above items and cigarettes. We bought filtered and unfiltered in the most popular brands. He had to do a bunch of leg work to find out the best sellers, but the internet wasn't available then. Things could be easier now!

He emptied out the soap and rinsed the bottle until it was clean. He made a thick rope of plasticine, about the size of your baby finger, and wrapped it around the fish tank filter tubing, attaching it to the neck of the bottle. The tube went through the plasticine and down about an inch into the bottle and up out of the bottle forming the throat and mouth. Another rope of plasticine for the lips and he was done. He made five lungs and labeled them "one cigarette- filtered", "one pack of cigarettes - filtered"; and the same for the unfiltered, plus one to keep "clean" for comparison.

He had to make graphing charts and I took photos to show the before, during, and after shots of the lungs; and of him as he "smoked" the lungs. He placed one cigarette into the outer end of the tubing, and wrapped the plasticine lips securely around the cigarette to make a good seal. Pumping the bottle would make the lung "breathe" and work as the lung "smoked" the cigarette. He wore a mask as he "smoked" to keep as much of the smoke from his lungs as possible. (so did I! gag!)

What he learned was that the chemicals in one cigarette does change blood chemistry, blood pressure and actually do harm you. He also learned the cost of cigarettes was high. Back then if someone smoked one cigarette a day (who does that?) for a year, it would cost the same as our entire family going to Disneyland. If you smoked an entire pack a day for a year, it would cost as much as taking him to Disneyworld, including the flights and hotel!

He made charts for all the info and the 'whys' (vessels constrict thus causing blood pressure to rise, yada yada yada) and also the costs, average age of starting, the stats on how cigarettes were the jump off "drug" for other substances, such as pot, drinking, etc. (Things in this area may have changed by now, but back then usually a kid would try smoking first then the other stuff.) He had his lungs on display along with the clean unused lung to show how much tar and nicotine collected in just the one and one pack...that was dramatic actually. Those, plus the pamphlets, were great in the eyes of the judges.

The thing that put him over the top was that he actually understood the "why's" because of the testing we did and could explain it all clearly to the judges.

Technically it wasn't that hard of a project. He had to read a lot and memorize a lot. But he also learned things that he wouldn't have without the "firsthand" experience. The main work took a couple of hours one Saturday and another hour for him to put it all on his board.

So there you go. Feel free to give it a try. And no, I never got one of the kids to do an experiment entitled: "Will just one shot of whiskey impair my judgment?" dang it, that could have been so much more fun!

add to sk*rt


Rynell said...

What a great project!

S'mee said...

Thanks Rynell! (I am secretly glad those days are oooooover!)

Heather O. said...

I am royally impressed.

S'mee said...

Thanks Heather! and Welcome! I hope to see you come back often! (evidently I like exclamation points today!)