Every scientific experiment begins with a certain curiosity and a question.
In the Alterowitz Gymnasium of Montana State University Billings there were more than 300 questions posed on hundreds of different subjects ranging from the dominant paw of a scientist's dog, to the pain threshold of redheads and to the most moisturizing formula for lip balm.
More than 270 students, aged between 1 and 12, from 24 counties in southeastern Montana, asked these questions at the 31st edition of Science Expo. On Friday evening the gym was closed to parents and the public while the trial was in progress.
A scientific project was rightly called "stressful science", which adapted to the nervous energy of the room. The children lined up the floor of the gym waiting to talk to one of the 180 judges.
"I'm nervous," said Tara Schrabe, 14. Tara, who attended the eighth year at the Grace Montessori Academy, did their theoretical physics project. Despite the nerves, Tara took the opportunity to participate in this year's Expo.
"I really wanted to do it," said Tara, who as a theoretical physicist learned from Stephen Hawking, while Tara's project explained string theory and black holes: one day Tara hopes to be a theoretical physicist.
Being judged turned out to be unnerving for some, but others approached with cold security.
"I'm not very nervous anymore," said Grady Gahagan, a primary school grade school. "This is my third year here, and the sixth year in general."
The Billings homeschooler said he had been doing science fairs since he was in first grade. Every year he faces something new; this time he wanted to see if a detector of human lies was possible.
The judgment is divided between elementary, middle and high school, said Pat Lowthian, a fourth-grade teacher and McKinley Elementary School in Billings and a member of the Expo council.
The evaluation period was from 6:30 am to 8:30 am on Friday. After completing the judgment, stickers will be placed on the winners' projects, but they will have to wait until the Saturday awards ceremony (scheduled for 15:00) to find out what they won.
There are 10 awards per level level, and special prizes are given by the community, Lowthian said. The overall winner of the Expo will have the opportunity to participate in the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix.
For many high school children, the Expo is the occasion to fill the college curriculum, to have the opportunity to compete nationally and to explore topics of interest.
Maddie Bach, junior at Senior High, wants to become an electrical engineer and took the opportunity to explore her interest in the industry. This year, his second exhibition, he built a simulation of an electric breaker.
"It's a good way to get ideas out," he said. "I'm learning engineering, and it's a way to think about what I want to do."
For younger students, it is an introduction to the scientific method, which is why many projects were based on a question or a topic that children were really passionate about.
"We are trying to encourage them, not to pigeonhole them in an experiment," Lowthian said.
It is important to stimulate children's interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), he said, and most children become regular customers.
"Once you've stretched a rubber band, it can never go back to its original size," he said. "It's the same once you expand your mind with science."
The Science Expo is open to the public on Saturday morning from 10am to 2.30pm. at the MSUB Alterowitz gym for those who want to learn.