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Two students head to state science fair

April 10, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

Listening to classical music may change Allen Tyler's life, while living in the Imperial Valley proved to be the answer for Viviana Huang.

Allen, 13, an eighth-grader at McCabe Union Elementary School near El Centro, and Viviana, 15, a Brawley Union High School sophomore, are on their way to the state science fair in May after placing first at the San Diego science fair.

Even more remarkable is that this is the first time both have ever been involved in a science fair.

Allen owes it all to Mozart.

His project? It involved a hamster, a maze and music.

Allen said he got the idea while riding in the car with his mom. He needed a project idea for the school's science fair, which was mandatory for all eighth-graders.

Mom mentioned the "Mozart effect"…and an idea was born.

"I wanted to test the Mozart effect. The theory is that Mozart's music can do a lot of things like make people smarter and raise IQ scores," said Allen.


Since he'd always thought science was "about little rodents running through tubes," Allen decided to test his theory on a hamster he'd named Sparky.

"I couldn't test if it was getting smarter but I could test if it was going faster," Allen explained.

He chose three types of music — rock, country and classical — picked one song that he felt best represented each, and ran Sparky through a maze.

The result? Classical, more specifically, Mozart, won.

Sparky ran through the maze consistently faster while accompanied by Mozart's music.

"He got confused when rock music was played. He would peek over the side of the maze," said Allen, adding his theory might apply to teen-agers as well, "It's slowing us down."

"The most interesting part was the fact that he actually had a difference between the songs," Allen said, "The different sounds and beats will make the hamster go faster.

"I was surprised how different music can make such an effect."

Allen concedes to being "nervous" about the state science fair, although he's hoping to win a sweepstakes prize.

When he's not putting his hamster through the paces, Allen is working on building a Web site to download music.

"I like the idea of being a scientist because I like inventing things, but I like computers, too," Allen said of his future.

Said his science teacher, Emily Miranda: "He's very thorough and gets excited about learning new things.

"He has questions and is curious about things. The first step in learning is to be curious," she added.

Another curious student is Viviana Huang.

Viviana also had a mandatory science project, a ninth-grade science requirement at BUHS.

Her inspiration came from living in the Imperial Valley.

"The summers are hot and maybe the farmers need water. There might be water shortages like there are energy shortages," Viviana explained, "My problem was how to slow down the evaporation rate of water."

Knowing oil and water do not mix, Viviana decided to test if different types of oil would slow the rate of evaporation.

After 16 trials over a two-week period, she found that any amount of oil would slow the rate of evaporation "as long as it's biodegradable," she said, adding she tested corn, sesame, vegetable and soybean oils.

Viviana entered the school's science fair, where she placed third, and then the county science fair, which she won, even though she wasn't present for the judging.

"I had the science project, so I thought why not just give it a try?" she said of her choice to enter the county competition.

Viviana explained she couldn't attend the county competition because she had an Upward Bound meeting in San Diego.

The San Diego science fair was her first time in a science competition.

"It was nerve-racking. I didn't know what it would be like," Viviana said.

Not only did she take a first place, she took home the Sea World Landscaping Professional Award. She doesn't know yet exactly what that entails.

However, a tragedy occurred after the San Diego competition;

"My (demonstration) board got left up in San Diego and it's lost now," Viviana said.

She said she will have to redo the project.

"It will just take a little more time. Hopefully I'll get it done before May."

She added she thinks she has everything saved on a computer disk.

Born in Mexicali, Viviana moved to the United States in the sixth grade, where she quickly learned English. She is trilingual, speaking Chinese, Spanish and English.

Second in her class, Viviana is involved in the math and science programs in University of California San Diego's Upward Bound program and is active in the school leadership team at Brawley High.

Viviana was part of an action team that developed a plan to improve the high school, a plan now awaiting the school board's approval.

Viviana said she enjoys going online or hanging out with friends in her free time. However, she added, "I don't have a lot of free time."

She works at her parent's restaurant, Taisan, most of the time.

Scott Phillips, Viviana's science teacher last year who helped guide her with her project, described her as "a top-notch student."

"She is hard-working and dedicated to whatever she applies herself to."

"It's a good feeling to have a student who will take the time (to enter the science fair) even though it no longer affects her grade," Phillips said, "She has pride in what's she's done."

Viviana explained what she learned the most from her project.

"Science projects are a way to experiment with larger things that will help the world in a larger way. These projects are just representations of larger things."

Staff Writer Laura MacKenzie can be reached at 337-3442.

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