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Landfill goo, snakes fodder for Science and Engineering Fair

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PHOENIX – When sixth-grader Tristen Guevara found out that liquid from landfills often degrades pipes and harms the environment, he wanted to find a solution.

So for the science fair at Imagine West Gilbert Charter School, he took three styrofoam cups and watched the cups degrade in response to acetone, bleach and lemon oil.

His experiment, along with more than 900 others, competed in the 9th annual Arizona Science and Engineering Fair, which concluded Wednesday at the Phoenix Convention Center.

“I like science because there’s always new things to be learned,” he said. “Some people aren’t interested in it, but it’s a lot more fun discovering new things than you might think.”

Run by the Arizona Science Center, the statewide science fair gathered more than 1,200 students from fifth through 12th grades.

Jen Gutierrez, director of the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair, said Arizona needs to foster young scientists since it’s home to engineering centers for some of the technology industry’s biggest companies, including Intel and Honeywell.

“They’re in our backyard,” she said. “You work with these kids and you think, ‘This could be the next CEO.’”

And she’s amazed by what experiments the students can come up with.

“They’re so smart and they’re so creative and innovating in such a great way. We should encourage that and celebrate that,” Gutierrez said.

The Arizona Science and Engineering Fair lines up with a nationwide push to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics education – known as STEM education.

The U.S. ranks 49th in the world for math and science education, according to the World Economic Forum’s “2013-2014 Global Competitiveness Report.”

“There’s jobs in our future that we don’t even know about. We are trying to figure out, ‘How do we grow a workforce that’s going to be ready for that?’” Gutierrez said.

Ty Pham-Swann, a fifth-grader at Canyon View Elementary School in Tucson, tested the theory that snakes like to slither onto warm roadways. By analyzing data that tracked more than 8,000 locations of rattlesnakes, he found they aren’t partial to the street.

“They avoid it, probably because there’s no cover on the road and so they can be seen by predators,” Pham-Swann said.

Next to the large room filled with the kids’ experiments was a space where different sponsors and organizations offered interactive science activities. For example, the Arizona Sci-Tech Festival had a booth with Play-Doh that conducted electricity.

Guevara, the student with the landfill experiment, try to poke as many small colorful lights into the clay-like substance as he could.

“We’ve almost got all of them,” he said to his friend, Matthew Burggraff, an eighth-grader at Guevara’s school.

Alexis Hodel, a volunteer and event coordinator for the Arizona Sci-Tech Festival, said the statewide science fair encourages excitement around science, which is vital to the future.

“Science is in everything we do. People don’t realize,” Hodel said. “So it’s important for us to be here to tell people about it.”