Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Speedy Rodents!

So, it's Science Fair time again.

Over the past years, we've managed to avoid the hub-bub of Science Fair, even though I *know* that it's a great experience, and wonderful for the kids, and what a great idea, and look at all the SCIENCE that the kids are doing, bla bla bla, yadda yadda yadda. You see, the Science Fair stuff that I've seen so far in this school district has been at either end of the "My mom/dad is a genetic researcher and therefore, my science fair project is on the Teleomerase Response of the xd-298J Gene, the research for which I completed at their multi-million dollar facility" to "Mentos and Diet Coke... again" spectrum. Either you can tell that the kid had a PILE of help from science-savvy adults, or there's no real science happening. Yeah, this is the sound of me making excuses.

Skip avoided Science Fairs until last year, when they became mandatory in 7th Grade as part of the grading process.

I kind of thought that Kelly might follow in his footsteps.

But that's the curse of having motivated friends... her BFF wants to do a Science Fair Project, and she wants to do it with Kelly. And Kelly's drunk the Kool-Aid, and is totally on board.

Of course, the topic? HAMSTERS! It's *got* to have something to do with hamsters, mom! Wouldn't that be the best!? And what could we test? We've got FOUR hamsters, and we've got males and females (I think!), so that would be a good test, but what can we test? Can we make a maze? Can we do something with their food? What can we test?

So I had a little chat with Alice's mother, and we decided to take a look around at what sort of things might be fun for 9 year old girls to study about Hamsters.

(as an unfortunate aside, for those of you playing the "Hamster Babywatch 2009" home game, it turns out that S'more is not, in fact, pregnant this round, which kind of stinks, because that would've made an EXCELLENT genetics project: What are the prevalences of certain colour types in the offspring of a mating between a wild-type coloured female and a cinnamon coloured male?)

One of the first things I found when I was looking online was this:

Seriously! Probably one of the funniest things I've seen. I could watch those little guys for HOURS!

And it got me thinking...

The girls would have a BLAST putting the various hamsters in the wheel to see who ran the fastest. They could test whether boys ran faster than girls, and whether Syrian hamsters run faster than Dwarf Campbells... or whether they run faster/slower when compared to their size. They could WEIGH the hamsters, and MEASURE the hamsters, and then put them in a wheel and see what happens...

So last night, we rigged up something with a bike computer that we picked up at Target for $15. Yes, it was a bit of a splurge, but I foresee HOURS of fun...

Here's the initial set-up. The wheel is taped down to the bottom of the storage bin, and the read-out screen is taped up near the top where the hamsters can't get at it.

Here, Souffle is just getting up to speed.

And now he's got a good head of steam. See? He's breaking the 4 kilometer per hour speed limit! Slow down, buddy! In the end, he managed a whopping Maximum Speed of 4.5 kmH

Then we spruced up the 'test environment' a bit with some soft-wood shavings and a food dish, and moved Souffle out and put Oreo in.

It took her a while to get used to the surroundings, and she spent a bunch of time just stepping into the wheel, and stepping out, walking a few steps in the wheel, cleaning herself, checking out the seeds, marking her territory, that sort of girl-stuff.

But then she got down to business...

And look at that! She managed to push the envelope, and ended up with a final Maximum Speed of 5.1 kmH.

That girl can fire up the jets!

The rig still needs some fine-tuning. And right now, it's just set up for the dwarf hamsters to run in. But I think Alice's dad has another bike computer/speedometer, and if so, we can set up one of the bigger wheels for Cheddar and S'more to run in.

I think I might just like Science Fair season, after all.

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