A Message from the Vet - April 2014
State Science Fair

Can you see yourself, or your son or daughter, gathering dozens samples of cat doots from litter boxes at the animal shelter? Or, walking along the road to Mauna Kea, pulling out fireweed, looking for mealy bugs and hoping to catch a bunch of ants to take back home? Or paying a visit to the bathrooms of five State Parks, and swabbing the toilet seats, floors and handles hoping to find bacteria, and figuring out which area is most contaminated? Then repeat this four more times?

In the name of science, school projects and youthful curiosity, 180 students assembled at the 2014 Hawaii State Science Fair on April 1st. I was asked to be a judge of the junior division (6th-8th grades) in the area of animal science and microbiology. Three years ago I participated in the windward division science fair: winners of the school fairs go to district; winners of district go to state; and winners of state go to nationals. At the state level, the students have many opportunities of exposure to judges, and defense and explanation of their projects.

Some of the choices of science fair projects were to investigate general principles of scientific problems: how to identify the different bacteria in a mixed sample with light refraction, or what is optimal temperature and growth medium for yeast, or the preferred bait for attracting the invasive species, the fire ant.

Some of the projects were designed to solve a personal conundrum: a computer program linked to a scanner, a display and a speaker that would tell sight-impaired grandpa if the pill from a vial had been taken or was still on schedule to be taken. One project helped to explain why (after the student read a passage from a book), a boy was unable to hit a fish with a spear while standing on shore, by measuring light refraction through different liquid media. Another project designed to validate or not, wholesale culling of feral cats on outer islands by surveying the prevalence of toxoplasmosis, a threat to people and sea mammals.

Whether the student had seemingly unlimited funds and support from adults, or had more humble facilities, the competitors were the scientifically enlightened students that enthusiastically embraced their chosen question, had a clear grasp of scientific principle, and could effectively speak with adults. I was the only veterinarian in my group. I not only learned a lot but appreciated being able to contribute to the students' positive experience.

FYI the bathroom floors had the heaviest load of bacteria. Keep your dogs out of the bathrooms, and wear slippahs!

John Haddock, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.