Glacier Gateway girls tops at science fair

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From left, Kira Shanks, Aubrey Smith and Elaina Dorr recently did well at the Montana Tech Regional Science and Engineering Fair in Butte. (Chris Peterson photo)

Is industrial timber ash an effective liming agent for farm fields? Can you have fun with frequencies? Instrumental music versus songs with lyrics: Which helps with concentration the most?

Three fifth-grade girls from Glacier Gateway Elementary School recently took on those topics and did well at the Montana Tech Regional Science and Engineering Fair in Butte earlier this month.

Elaina Dorr won gold for her topic of “Is industrial timber ash an effective liming agent for farm fields?”; Aubrey Smith won gold for “Fun with frequencies,” and Kira Shanks took silver for “Instrumental music versus songs with lyrics: Which helps with concentration the most?”

Shanks also won the Dr. Wilbur Held Memorial Award and Dorr won a Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks special award.

Dorr said she got the idea for her project after her grandfather, Dale Orem, got a couple of dump truck loads of the above mentioned timber ash from the former Plum Creek mill. She tested her theory that the ash would help wheat health by making a small-scale plot of wheat — one with the ash in the soil, the other without.

Since soils in the valley have a higher acidity content, she found that the wheat with ash did better than the wheat without. The wheat grown with the ash had a more robust root system.

Smith had fun with frequencies by building her own chaldni plate — a device that allows one to visualize sound frequencies — in her case, by making salt patterns on the plate when the sound vibrated it. She found that the higher the frequency, the more complex the pattern.

Shanks studied whether listening to songs with lyrics or instrumental classical music was better for concentration. The result weren’t so black and white, she noted. She had test subjects — 26 of them — do “find the hidden picture” puzzles and other tasks while Taylor Swift or classical music played in their ears.

The lyrical music made her subjects feel rushed, while the classical music made them feel relaxed. But the results were almost the same, no matter the music, though subjects worked faster with the Swift song, she noted.

All three have lofty career goals. Dorr said she wants to be a pediatrician. Smith wants to be an engineer and Shanks wants to work with children and the outdoors.

All three agreed that girls were smarter than boys.

“Boys mess around in class and get in trouble,” Shanks said.

Perhaps, but Boone Shanks, a sixth-grader from Columbia Falls junior high also garnered a silver medal for his project at the fair. Taking bronze was Gateway fifth-graders Merell Cooley and Findley Dezzani.

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