Not-so-weird science

Hermiston middle school students Jacee Ternes, 11, and Sofia Gispert Tello, 13, heat a can of water with a burning Brazil nut at Saturday Science at Blue Mountain Community College. By tranferring the nut's energy to the water, Tello and Ternes were able to estimate the nut's calories.

For at least one Saturday Science middle schooler, the news that her sports drink consisted largely of sugar was, well, too much information.

“She picked up her bottle and said, ‘I don’t want to drink this anymore,’” laughed Brenna Dunlap, a teacher with the Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center.

Students from across northeast Oregon, some from as far away as Tygh Valley, enjoyed a full day of body-centered science at the first Saturday Science event at Blue Mountain Community College. They drew and decorated models of the human body, conducted experiments to determine caloric, protein or starch contents in foods and poured solutions through tubes to model the human digestive system.

Two Hermiston students, Sofia Gispert Tello, 13, and Jacee Ternes, 11, favored the experiment that found the caloric content of nuts. They filled an aluminum can with 50 ml of water, then heated it to boiling with a flaming Brazil nut. By recording how high the water’s temperature climbed, they could calculate calories per gram of nut.

“There are few activities like this around here,” said Tello.  “It’s interactive.”

In another room, students determined the sugar content of common cereals, sodas and desserts. They calculated the sugar in a typical fast food meal and scrutinized the nutritional information found on ready-to-eat foods. A box of 10 Ho Hos, for example, holds about 30 teaspoons of pure sugar.

In another exercise, they used Crisco to represent the fat in a meal, alongside the representative white table sugar.

“You get an idea of what you’re really eating,” Dunlap said.

The Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center sponsored Saturday Science with Eastern Oregon University, Blue Mountain Community College and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The goal is to interest kids in science, math and careers in medicine.

Eastern Oregon University chemistry professor Anna Cavinato, who was facilitating the nut experiment, said it worked: kids were fascinated by the process and engaged.

“The only way to really get kids excited about science is to do it with your hands, to experiment,’ she said.

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