Forty finalists from across the U.S. gathered in Washington, DC this weekend to kick off the seventh annual Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge. Finalists displayed and explained their winning science fair projects and were grouped into teams of five to embark on this week's competitive challenges.
PHOTOS: By Paul Morigi/U.S. Newswire
The 2005 YSC finalists competed in team-based, action-packed challenges designed around the theme of "Forces of Nature." In the wake of the natural disasters that ravaged the Gulf Coast of the United States and Southeast Asia, each team faced challenges—from fog banks, to hurricanes, to tsunamis—that utilized a broad range of scientific knowledge in order to understand the implications and scope of natural disasters. View photo galleries or slideshows of each challenge, and check out how the forty finalists fared.
In the Thick of It
What's the best color of light to use for aviation signaling in dense fog? Finalists filled a 16,000 cubic foot test chamber with a thick fog. Then, using fog density measuring devices and a variety of landing signal devices, finalists determined which color light and wavelength of light is most effective for signaling within the dense fog they created. They tested their choices by remotely landing radio-controlled blimps with attached video cameras onto a specified target in the dense fog bank.
Eye on the Storm
How do tornadoes form? Using nine strategically placed fans, teams attempted to simulate the conditions of a tornado and create a huge, spinning vortex within a two and one-half story structure. Once a funnel was created and the vortex built enough power, finalists attempted to measure barometric pressure within the vortex, comparing the data with their predictions. Finalists were challenged to take measurements without disrupting the tornado itself.
How can we guard against tsunamis? Working with NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory scientists, finalists created and then assembled their own wave generators at one end of a 40-foot water tank capable of sending a variety of wave scenarios toward a simulated beach at the far end of the tank. Teams were challenged to design and fabricate model beach approaches, wave barriers, and impact targets.
In Case of Emergency
What happens after the storm? Working with a member of Doctors Without Borders, finalists were challenged to use whatever materials were provided to solve emergency sanitation problems common to natural disasters. Teams received a crate of objects reflective of the limited resources available in such circumstances. From these objects, they were challenged to create or fabricate tools and techniques to encapsulate medical waste and transport them safely. Much to the surprise of the finalists, each team's work was checked at the completion of the task through the use of ultraviolet light—clearly showing where "germs" or "disease" had spread.
Finalists were challenged not only to formulate a specific iodine clock reaction using specific proportions of two liquids but also to do so in time with a piece of music. If successful, a dramatic color change occurred at a prominent point in the song.
Lab Tech Relay
Finalists were challenged to complete a series of eight standard lab operations with precision and accuracy in a relay race fashion. Skills tested included using a balance to determine mass, measuring liquids of various densities, separating solids of differing densities, classifying rocks and minerals, assembling an electronic circuit, identifying lab equipment, and using a microscope to identify slides.