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5th-grader aims to save toddlers' lives with science project

Students gather at the U. for annual Science and Engineering Fair

SALT LAKE CITY — For fifth-grader Seigi Aoki, the science fair is more than just devising experiments to test a scientific principle.

"It's to minimize the amount of drownings and injuries inside the bathtub," Aoki said as he stood at a booth displaying a prototype helmet for babies that beeps when it gets wet.

Aoki said that bathtub drownings are the most common cause of accidental death for children between the ages of 1 and 4, and it happens when parents leave the child unattended, even briefly.

Aoki was among the crowd of fifth- and sixth-graders showing off their science projects on Wednesday at the University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair at Rice-Eccles Stadium. In all, 706 young scientists are set to compete in the fair, with those in the high school division vying to advance to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college science fair.

On Wednesday, the elementary students set up more than 100 booths as judges made the rounds.

Jody Oostema, of the U.'s Center for Science and Mathematics Education who has been the program manager for 14 years, said students from public, private or parochial school in the Canyons, Granite, Murray, Park City, Salt Lake and Tooele school districts, as well as home-schooled kids, attend the science fair.

"All these kids have won at their school fair and advanced to their district fair, and then the district fair advances them here," said Oostema.

Each student presented a project or experiment, with some of the booths showcasing the student's engineering skills, something they built or desired to build, and others illuminating a scientific concept the student hypothesized and tested.

Judging was based on the "completeness" of the project — the scientific reasoning behind the student's work, how the hypothesis was devised, how well it was researched, and how well the student communicated the process and the results visually and orally.

Hailey Martin did a study on whether media impacts girls' self-image.

She cut out images from girls' beauty magazines and made two sample magazines, one focused on "body beauty" and another focused on "all-inclusive beauty." She prepared a survey of 15 questions that she administered to 20 girls between the ages of 10 to 14. Half of the sample group read the "body beauty" magazine and the other half read the "all-inclusive."

Martin said she found that even brief exposure to the body beauty magazine lowered the girls' self-esteem and body acceptance.

George Eagleston and Dallin Souke devised an experiment to test whether colors with shorter wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum absorbed and re-emitted more energy from the sun than colors with longer wavelengths. They cut out squares of different colored paper and left them in the sun at the same time for 3 minutes and then used an infrared thermometer gun to measure the temperature of each from a distance of 36 inches. They found there was no difference, but upon further experimenting they did find that there was a correlation between the lightness of the shade of a color and the amount of energy from the sun it absorbed and re-emitted.

The junior high and high school students convene at the same location on Thursday. Awards will be handed out at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Alta High School in Sandy.

Oostema said there were cash prizes for the elementary students while the high school students were competing for a scholarship to Westminster College.

"We're trying to encourage a love of science and engineering. So, for them to get the recognition, to talk to judges who are experts in their field, can let students know that there's so many things they can do (in) science and engineering and increase their love for science and research," said Oostema.