science fair

Silver Lake student Lana Swanson talks to the judges about her project during the Nebraska Junior Academy of Sciences Regional Science Fair Wednesday at Hastings College.

Last year, Kassi Jones, a sophomore at Silver Lake High School, wanted to scientifically prove that farmers and ranchers are good stewards of the land.

This year, her goal is to prove producers are good stewards of the air.

Kassi is continuing her science fair project from 2019, when she tested the amount of methane in cattle manure. This year, she is testing the amount of methane in the air, and how the methane levels differ between cattle feeds.

Kassi presented her work at the Nebraska Junior Academy of Sciences Central Regional Science Fair Wednesday at Hastings College. Sixty-four projects were presented at the senior level (high school), and 41 were presented at the junior level (middle school). Three local schools, Adams Central, St. Cecilia and Silver Lake, competed alongside four other schools in the central Nebraska region.

Kassi got interested in the subject last year when she heard that cattle — and consequentially, ranchers — were producing more methane than some other polluting industries. Methane is a greenhouse gas and is a contributor to climate change.

Kassi, whose family owns over 350 head of cattle, knew that ranchers do everything in their power to take care of their land.

“When people say we (ranchers) are hurting our planet, it’s false. It hurts us,” she said.

So, Kassi conducted her project to answer questions she had about cattle and methane production.

Last year, she was able to send manure samples to a laboratory in Billings, Montana, to test for methane content. But transporting air samples is more complicated. With the help of the laboratory in Billings, Kassi learned how to fill a tedlar bag, which is used to collect and protect air samples, with a syringe.

Her project found that cattle fed on a grass hay and grain mix put off the most methane, and cattle with the least amount of corn put off the least methane, consistent with the original project.

Kassi was one of a handful of students who expanded on their projects from previous years. Neil Heckman, NJAS regional director, said students can benefit from digging deeper into a particular subject

“I think if they’re really interested in what they did the previous year, they can gain some greater insight and further depth in their studies,” Heckman said.

He did note, however, that some students would benefit from getting out of their comfort zone and working in another area.

“For other students, getting a fresh idea is better. Sometimes when you do a similar project the second year, you don’t have that hunger to learn,” Heckman said.

Adams Central juniors Ethan Rogers and Blaine Pleak also continued off a project from last year. In 2019, the duo experimented with five different algaes to determine which algae grew the fastest, in order to produce the most biofuel.

This year, they did an actual biofuel extraction from the two most prolific algae of the previous experiment. The extraction process, called a Soxhlet extraction, expanded their biology project to include chemistry.

Ethan said they got interested in biofuels because they wanted to understand what fuel alternatives have a lower carbon footprint.

“As the fuel of the future, algae biofuels might be the key to solving air pollution,” the two wrote in their project’s abstract.

The top students from the regional science fair will go to the state competition, held at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln April 16. The top 10 students at the state competition will compete at nationals. The top students are ranked equally, without a first or second place.

Senior division qualifiers and their project titles are:

  • Trevor Ahlers and Luke Bonifas of Adams Central Junior/Senior High School, “Comparing temperature difference between different eco-friendly insulation substitutes”
  • Ella Buhlke of Central City Public Schools, “Characterization of Nora Virus infection in Drosophila melanogaster pupa and larva and the effect on geotaxis.”
  • Jenna Cecrle of Adams Central, “The effect of prescription steroids on Drosophila melanogaster body length and body width”
  • Mari Conant of Adams Central, “Effects of e-cigarette vapor on the reproduction of Drosophila melanogaster”
  • David Johnson of Central City Public Schools, “A field study to determine the presence of Rickettsia bacterial pathogens in the lone star tick in Cen
  • tral Nebraska”
  • Elaina McHargue of Central City Public Schools, “The effects of barley straw (hordeum vulgare) extract and barley straw pellets on algal growth and water quality”
  • Austin Wells of Central City Public Schools, “The effect of elevated glucose levels from SGLT-2 inhibitors on the minimum inhibitory concentration of Candida Albicans”

Junior division qualifiers and their project titles are:

  • Addie Buhlke of Central City Public Schools, “Comparison of bactericidal activity in chlorination and a ‘natural’ mineral additive in private hot tubs using Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis”
  • Trent Detlefsen of Central City Public Schools, “The effect of moisture level on popcorn volume”
  • Bailey Greving of Central City Public Schools, “The effect of drying temperature on corn moisture level”
  • Lana Sanson of Silver Lake High School, “Discovering which taming method is best for cows (Bos taurus)”
  • Jerzie Schindler of Central City Public Schools, “The effect of pitch speed and bat brand on softball exit velocity”
  • Charlie Teahon of Sandhills High School, “Hamster health”
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