- Associated Press - Sunday, March 23, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Kneeling down, Chance Duckworth gave the round table before him a vigorous shake.

As the table wobbled, red pens attached to metal wires and wooden boards moved back on forth on pieces of white paper. Faint squiggles measured the amplitude of his mini-earthquake.

For the 59th annual Alaska State Science and Engineering Fair on Saturday, Duckworth, 11, built a pair of homemade seismographs to demonstrate how earthquakes are recorded.

“I like geology, and just the concept of earthquakes,” said Duckworth, a sixth-grader at Trailside Elementary, a few days before the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Alaska earthquake.

From Duckworth’s seismographs, to a robot that can solve a Rubix cube, to the chemistry of dyeing an Easter egg, the 386 projects created by more than 440 students from 69 different schools across Alaska ran the gamut of scientific inquiry.

Syreeta Southwould, 11, decided to do a project on “vampire power,” or the power electrical devices use up when they are switched off or in standby mode. She found that in general, only small amounts of power are used when an item is in standby mode, though it uses more power to keep an Apple iPhone plugged in on standby for 16 hours than to use it for 8 hours.

She also discovered her family can save money by unplugging the television when they leave the house - something they plan to start doing, said Southwould, a sixth-grader at Aquarian Charter School in Anchorage.

As students connected their projects to the real world, some tied research to specific community issues.

Dan Distor, 14, and Ivan Fancyboy, 18, wanted to explore how biannual discharges from the sewage lagoon in Pilot Station into the Yukon River were affecting the quality of the river water. The lagoon is located within 100 meters to 500 meters of homes and buildings in Pilot Station.

The Pilot Station School students guessed that “downstream” water, which receives the sewage discharges, would have more contaminants, dissolved solids and a higher pH value than the “upstream” water, which does not receive the discharges.

After conducting the experiment - which involved driving four-wheelers to the river to collect samples - the duo confirmed their contamination hypothesis was right, and plan to present the findings to Pilot Station’s village council.

The eight students from Pilot Station School made up about half of the total contingent from the Lower Yukon School District. Six years ago, Distor’s mom, Wilma Distor, Pilot Station’s only science and math teacher for grades 7-12, organized Pilot Station’s first school science fair. She’s brought students to the state science fair every year since.

“I really believe that inquiry and process is the one thing students should learn,” said Distor, who grew up in the Philippines and coordinated science fairs while teaching in Texas. Each Friday, she makes a point of only doing experiments in class.

“For me, science is not complete science without these science projects.”

Fourteen-year-old Alex Schuerch’s also got the idea for his project from an issue in a rural Alaska community. His dad, Tim Schuerch, works in Kotzebue, and relayed firsthand observations of the corrosion of steel structures in the acidic Arctic tundra environment.

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