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Curiosities converge

January 25, 2012

Peyton Ramseur experimented with five different calculators before he found one that could be powered by a potato.

He turned his experiment into an entry in Catawba County Schools' (CCS) annual science fair.

"All you need is a galvanized nail, pennies, two potatoes and a calculator terminal," said Ramseur, a sixth-grader at St. Stephens Elementary School. "The calculator will turn on because of the phosphoric acid in the potatoes."

Ramseur researched his experiment on the Internet and first attempted to power LED lights with potatoes. His dad suggested he try to power a calculator, and his mother's work calculator was the first to successfully run on the acidic juices from two potatoes, nails, pennies and wires.

"Science is boring in the classroom, but when I have free time I experiment with stuff like this," he said. "I like doing science because I like learning stuff. I learned that fruits and vegetables rich in ions can be good electrical conductors."

Lauren Lewis, also a sixth-grader at St. Stephens Elementary, learned through her project that Florida's Natural orange juice replaces more electrolytes than other drinks after a workout.

"I chose to study electrolytes because I play a lot of sports and wanted to test which liquid replaces electrolytes the best," she said.

Lewis dipped a multimeter three times each into Florida's Natural and Great Value orange juices; Gatorade and Propel fitness drinks; and city, well and distilled waters to test electrolyte levels measured in milliamps. Florida's Natural orange juice produced a reading of 45 milliamps, while Great Value orange juice produced 38.4 milliamps. In contrast, the fitness drinks produced readings in the teens, and water produced a reading of 1.1 mili-amps.

Lewis said she normally drinks Gatorade after playing volleyball, basketball and softball. She said her experiment won't change that preference.

More than 50 elementary and middle school students participated in the science fair, and their projects were impressive for the age level, said Scott Stuckey, CCS instructional technology facilitator and a former science teacher at St. Stephens High School. Stuckey served as a judge at the science fair.

"Some of the things are encouraging," he said. "Scientific experimentation can be difficult. It's not just a guess with the results. It's important at that age level to find things that are interesting to have a level of fascination, and it's good to see the kids excited about science — period."

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