Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Science Fair Success

For weeks, The Boy and I (with occasional help from his siblings and Daddy) have been working on his science fair project. In review, he had chosen to experiment with UV sensitive beads to determine what items would best protect you from UV rays.

We have actually been done with the experiment for well over a week and have been patiently awaiting some graphs I had ordered prints of (my laser printer is only black & white so I was hoping for a few color graphs). While we waited for the prints, we put together the rest of his display board.

We had been very pleased with the way his Popcorn display board turned out for the science fair in 3rd grade (he didn't have to do one in 4th grade). He wound up with an Honorable Mention ribbon. That was a very fun project for The Boy - though we were eating popcorn for a couple weeks afterwards. We learned that not only did we get MORE popped popcorn from the generic brand, but we also preferred the taste of the generic brand, too (Food Lion's store brand).

That board was black from the very start so creating an eye-catching display with black, white and red was easy. This time, though, we didn't have a clear picture as to what colors we would use and neither of us were pleased with the white background of the display board supplied (for a fee) by the school. We strayed from the "3 color rule" and just did what The Boy decided on - a sun, blue sky and green grass.

We used acrylic paints and a roller to roll on the blue sky. It added some interesting texture to the board. We got some neon colored posterboard and made the sun using yellow and orange. The sun had to be big enough to display his title. We bordered the base of the display with "grass" using the neon green.

We backed the headings in red to make them stand out more and because they matched his "photo journal".

The photo journal was an early idea to include pictures of the active UV beads and individual experiment results. Pictures wouldn't fit on his display board with all his data and graphs so we placed everything in a photo book from Snapfish.

The photo journal included everything from how he came up with the idea through his hypothesis, materials, procedure, experiments, data, results and conclusion, to his "Thank You's" at the end. We thought it would make a great keepsake for later when the science fair display board is long gone.

With everything else completed, we were still waiting for his graphs to show up. It was the day before the project was due when they finally showed up in the mail (next time I think I'll just have The Boy make 2 copies of each graph).

School days are already hectic enough without having to add to it the frenzy from trying to properly glue on the most important part of the science fair display board. But with the graphs finally attached, the "results" section (and the entire display board) was complete.

The next morning we toted the project to his school. He was very optimistic about the judging that night because after school he came out and said "Well, I'm pretty confident. Everyone rushed over to see what my project was." That night at the science fair, I found out why. Apparently, a lot of kids didn't put as much work into their display as we had put into his. There were several really good looking displays and other very nice, informative experiments, but overall, you could tell most of the projects were rush jobs. This one was one of my favorites of "that" bunch:

Yes, this was really on one of the projects being judged that night. Maybe the student got credit for honesty...

I think I was more nervous than The Boy while the judging was going on. Parents had to leave the classroom while the panel of judges questioned the students. Their verbal explanation of the experiment was worth half of the overall score and with him being the shy guy he is, heart went out to him. I knew he knew the information but I was concerned with how well he'd be able to present it.

He seemed to do very well and he said the judge he spoke with seemed very interested and impressed with his rundown of the experiment. I was so very proud of him! I told him later that night that I didn't have to present my projects as a kid and I'm not sure I would have survived it if I did.

The kids weren't going to find out until the morning announcements today who actually won the science fair. The Boy is hoping for a 2nd or 3rd place ribbon (but he chose to wear a blue shirt to think positive for a 1st place ribbon). He knows he did well. I know he did well. I just hope there is some confirmation from the school that he did well, too so he continues to do it in future science fairs throughout middle school.

Update: The Boy brought home a second place ribbon for his project! He was very pleased except that he was "beat by a girl".

There have been some requests for more details about this project. You can read the basic process for the experiment at You can also purchase the beads from Steve Spangler or from Amazon (ours came from Steve Spangler). We changed it up a bit by adding in more "filters" in addition to the different sunscreens. We used high SPF suncreen, low SPF sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, uv sunglasses and a black light (I think we used a light colored t-shirt as well)...the hat provided the best protection.

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Joy said...

He did an awesome job! Way to go, Tristan! We didn't put near that much time and effort into Elizabeth this year. ;) And you'll have that photo book as a keepsake which is wonderful!

Hetal said...

This is an awesome job! My fourth grader wants to do this experiment for his science fair. Can you please provide more details?

Trish said...

Hi Hetal!
You can read the basic process and get the beads here:

We upped the U filters section and used high SPF suncreen, low SPF sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, uv sunglasses and a black light (I think we used a light colored t-shirt as well).

Unknown said...

Hi, LOVED this idea for a science project. Can you pleae provide more details, I know you changed it a bit. Any help will be appreciated. Thank you

Trish said...

Hi Erica,

You can find the basic instructions here:

You can also find the UV beads at the same website.

As for changes we made, we only added to the number of UV filters tested. We did SPF 4, SPF 50, a hat, light colored cloth, dark colored cloth, UV sunglasses and non-uv sunglasses. We also had one that had no filter. This was our "constant".

We strung one bead of each color on a piece of cardboard and labeled the cardboard with the filter we planned to use for each. Sunscreen slathered on the ones labeled sunscreen, cloth covering the ones labeled "dark or light cloth, etc.

Then each cardboard strip was exposed to whatever light we were testing that day - sunlight, fluorescent light, black light, cloudy day, etc. Keep the "constant" exposed to the light but do the others one at a time. If you try to do them all at once you will be overwhelmed.

Then the results were recorded. We recorded how much tome it took for beads to start reacting to the light and also took a picture of the change (even if there appeared to be no change). Always compare the filtered beads to the non-filtered beads (your "constant").

Hope this helps you out! Good luck and have fun!

peter gomez said...

He did a very nice job.and reminds me about my fourth year old.