Can hay be used to absorb an oil spill? Does water in plastic bottles have more estrogen-related hormones in it than water in glass bottles? Can roof-top gardens produce energy savings?
Arizona's students put these questions and more to the test this week during the fifth Arizona Science and Engineering Fair at the Phoenix Convention Center.
More than 850 experiments will be judged and on display during the annual event, said director Phillip Huebner.
The state fair can be a stepping stone to higher competition. In 2009, Arizona received more awards than it ever had at the international science fair sponsored by Intel. In 2010, Hamilton High School student Scott Boisvert won second place at the international event.
Last year, more than 1,200 students participated in the state fair. But this year, the only time Huebner could reserve the convention center conflicted with the AIMS test, so fewer students are participating, he said.
Though science fairs have been around for nearly 60 years, today's event is far different than decades ago.
For starters, there used to be the idea that research projects didn't start until after winter break.
But now, some research goes on year-round.
"Research doesn't occur in 60 days," Huebner said. "Research occurs over years. We want them to find a topic they have an interest in and pursue that."
Students are encouraged to do projects in one of three areas: experimentation, theory (using data that already exists and manipulating it for another purpose) and invention, or the engineering area.
"We're trying to get away from the old school of volcanoes and catapults. That's modeling science. We want them to do research," he said.
More than two dozen students from Chandler's Paragon Science Academy will present projects during the fair.
"Science is the only way to change the world. Everything is grounded in science," said Paragon middle school teacher Richard Jones. "The kids haven't been exposed to that. ... When I was going to school I wish somebody told me the purpose for doing things, the reason science is so important. Every aspect of life starts from a scientific basis ... A lot of kids sit there and unless they experiment with it they don't see the purpose."
Paragon fifth-grader Farah Eltohamy, 10, definitely sees purpose in her experiment. Spurred by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, Farah set out to find a way to absorb oil in salt water, such as the ocean.
She used oat hay, motor oil, water and a gallon container and measured the rate at which the hay soaked up or collected the oil.
"It was exciting to find a new discovery," she said. "I want to help something environmental. The main thing I want to do is learn how to solve it (oil spills)."
Another student, Noor Gamaleldin, 10, wants a roof-top garden after completing her experiment. During her research, she found that a roof-top garden can lower the internal temperature of a model house - in this case a box.
"I didn't expect it to drop by 5 degrees," she said of her discovery. "I really liked it. It surprised me."