Mixsonian Morrs and Barbara Larry

Science Fair

Science Fair

project catalogProject Catalog

In January I decided to enter the school Science Fair which was to be held in early March, but I first had to decide on a science project.  Being a total science nut (the term “nerd” had not been in use yet) it's surprising I hadn't done so before.  I remember agonizing over what to do for some time.  I had read the magazine Popular Science Magazine for a few years and on the back pages they had all sorts of advertisements for science projects so I ordered a catalog of project plans you could order.  One that particularly interested me was building a laser.  Lasers had only been invented a few years earlier so what could be cooler than building a Helium-Neon laser?   I researched and got a few parts but soon found it to be much too complicated.

My next choice was to make a vortex tube cooler in which compressed air is injected into a device that separates hot and cold air.  I constructed a small test device but then needed a source of compressed air, so I found an old air compressor that came from a refrigerator that someone that thrown away. After working on the device for a week I found that the air compressor did not produce enough pressure and volume of air for the device to work so I gave up and looked for another project.  So, I turned to my trusty Popular Science magazine where I found a book “Science Projects Handbook” for only 50¢.  Science Fair HandbookI wrote a letter to the address providing my name, address, and the book I wanted then taped two quarters to a 3x5 card, put in an envelope and put it in the mail.  I knew it would take a week or more to get it so the following week I began to check the mailbox every day when I got home from school until it finally arrived. The book had all sorts of interesting projects in botany, chemistry, and so on  but the one that caught my attention was in the chapter on Space Sciences titled “A Method of Obtaining a Complete Balance of Life within a Closed System,” which could be used on long space flights or on distant planets.  The book described a system of pipes, chambers, pumps and other equipment in which algae could be grown to provide oxygen, scrub carbon dioxide from the air and the algae itself be a food source.  After reading considerable science fiction books for several years, this seemed like the perfect project for me. The system described in the book was just theoretical, not actually built so for my project I planned to actually build such a system, although much simpler. 

The system described in the book had a complex system of pipes, tubes, pumps, valves and chambers, much too complex for me, so I came up with a simplified design on a smaller scale, on a scale for a mouse.   A cylinder for the algae, a clear plastic box for the mouse living space, some tubing, a water pump, air pump, and a few more pieces and I had a design, I just needed the parts.  Not a problem, several items were used in chemistry, and Dad managed the stock rooms at the chemistry department, so I made up a list and he said he would get the items for me.  A few days later he came home with a four inch, two foot long glass tube with two large rubber corks for each end, plastic tubing of various sizes, and a few other items.  I found a small water pump for project in the Edmund Scientific catalog which I ordered. For an air pump I got a used one for a fish aquarium, the one that was from Water pumpthe aquarium my brother and I broke. For the mouse living chamber, I got a clear plastic storage container that was about five inches square, cut a hole in the bottom and glued a funnel to it to collect the mouse droppings.  I then found a piece of plywood two feet by three feet, painted it white and made a couple of brackets so it would stand upright and attached all the components to it. 

The glass tube would be filled with water and algae, the plastic living chamber had a screen bottom so that mouse dropping would fall through, funneled into a smaller container which the water pump would pump into to the algae tank.  The air pump took air from the mouse container and pump it into the algae tank which had a tube at the top which would return the air purified by the algae back into the mouse container.  Now I just needed algae and a mouse.  The mouse wasn’t much of a problem, I got one at the local pet store for a quarter.  For the algae I went to the pond that was in the field next to our neighborhood which had almost dried up with the remaining water thick with a green algae which I collected in a bottle. [drawing] I then got a couple of large pieces of poster board which on one I drew a diagram explaining the system and on the other the title and some inspirational words.

Closed System

By Larry Mixson     

Someday man will reach the stars. The nearest star from earth is Proxima Centuria, which is four and one-third light years away, or traveling at the speed of light, it would take four and on-third years to reach Proxima Centuria. This presents a problem for food and oxygen.   

Because a man consumes about 1½ ton of food, oxygen and water a year, it wouldn’t be practical to take enough food and oxygen with him on long voyages though space.  Because man couldn’t take food and oxygen with him he would have to make it. One way to produce food and oxygen in space is to use plants.  An ideal plant for this is algae.     

I think that this project would not only be useful on space ships but it would be ideal for a colony on the moon.

Ok, I have to say what I had seen on the TV show Star Trek made this a little primitive, but it was imaginative.

Using the typing skills I had learned in 9th grade, I typed up four page report to go with the project, getting it perfect with no typing errors only with a few re-types. (read paper) With everything completed a few days before the Science Fair, I was ready to go.  My contraption built, tank filled with algae, a desk light shinning on it making the glow a bright green, with green bubbles floating up though the tank from the air pump, I put the mouse in and closed it up and it seemed to all work.  I was ready. With the science fair two days away, I didn’t want to leave the contraption running afraid it might break down so I put the mouse back in the terrarium where I kept him and shut everything down but the air pump so the algae would stay alive. 

The Science Fair started on Thursday night with setup and judging,  public viewing and awards on Friday night and then the exhibits open to the public again Saturday.  I got home from school on Thursday and Mom came home early from work and I loaded up my exhibit in the back of the station wagon and Mom drove me back to school where I checked in, set my exhibit up on the assigned table, taking the mouse out of the box I brought him in and putting him in the living chamber, I was all set.  There were quite a few other student exhibits, three or four rows so I took some time and walked around and checked out the other exhibits before the judging which was to begin at 7 PM.  There were four judges, one being Mr. Strickland who was one of the science teachers at GHS, who went from exhibit to exhibit asking each contestant questions about there project and making notes.  As they went down the aisle getting closer to my exhibit, I was a little nervous when they finally reached me where they paused, looked over my exhibit, read my paper, and asked a few questions which I thought I answered pretty well and then they moved on.  Done for the evening, Mom drove me home.

There was no school on Friday as it was a “teacher day” as they called it, and the Science Fair was open to the public starting at 8:00 AM and the students were encouraged to be with their exhibits to answer questions that people may have so Mom drove me to school and dropped me off and said she would be back at 11 when the awards would be announced.  Upon arriving I checked out my exhibit to make sure everything was working, which it was, but the mouse didn’t look all that happy, but he was OK.  Not that many people showed up to see the exhibits as it still was a workday for parents, but I answered any questions that were asked until it was time for the awards announcement at 11 AM.  After a short speech by Mr. Strickland, the awards were announced, First Place went to a very impressive exhibit, Second Place to another, Third Place was announced, I didn’t win but I didn’t really expect to but then they announced several “Honorable Mentions” and much to my surprise I received one.  I was happy, Mom had come for the announcements and after pinning the ribbon on my exhibit afterwards she drove me home.

The Science Fair was again open to the public on Saturday from 8 in the morning to 5 PM.  I didn’t see any reason to be there when it first opened but thought I should check on the mouse so Mom drove me to school and said she would pick me up at 5 PM when the fair was over to pick me and my exhibit up.  Upon arriving at my exhibit, I found that someone had cracked open the lid to the mouse living chamber which probably saved his life for he looked terrible, his fir was soaking wet, and he looked cold.  There was a pretty good turn out of people to see the fair, but it dwindled off in the afternoon when Dad arrived just before 5 PM and I disassembled my exhibit, loaded it into the car and we returned home. I really enjoyed the science fair finding it a great experience.


Updated: 10-15-2022