Director's Choice Ideas

From time to time I come up with, or come across, a project idea / concept  that I will notate below.  These ideas will only be in hypothesis type format, and will not have any hard conclusions available.   They are of the substance of ideas that there has been no known or very little research done.   Please feel free  to take these ideas and "run with them".  But keep this in mind - As Director of the Louisiana Region 5 Science and Engineering Fair, I in no way get involved with the Judging, nor do I have any influence on the decision of the Judges.  I do not know who the winners of the awards are until I am handed the list at the beginning of the awards ceremony.  In other words, don't  research any of these ideas just because I suggested them.  

  1. Earth Sciences - Scientists have not be able to accurately predict when, or where, earthquakes will occur.  Believe it or not, there appears to be on the average of 10 recorded tremors throughout the world on any given day.  The depths of these disturbances can be anywhere from a few miles to 600+ miles.  In 2003 there were several major ( 7+ magnitude ) quakes that took place in various spots of globe.  Shortly afterward, there seemed to be a rash of minor to moderate quakes in other areas of the world.  Does a major quake set off or trigger other quakes in other quake prone areas?  If a major quake takes place at the 300 mile level, and if there is an increase in quake activity in the days following this event, then at what depth do they normally occur?  What, if any, is the correlation?  I would suggest starting out at the following site: link to the USGS has a great database of historical data that could be used.  You might want to consider drawing up or designing some type of global 3D model to depict the results of your research.  While you are collecting the information, a few other good questions are, "Is there a time of year that the frequency of increase?   Is there any comparison to this frequency in regard to the Northern and Southern hemisphere?"  Anyway, go for this if you are into doing some fascinating research.  Added Note:  I recently (Early December) stumbled across an interesting site - scientist here has done a lot of research in earthquake predictions in correlation to tidal activity.  He forecast the December quake in California, Oregon, and the 7.0 in the Pacific Ring of Fire.  Check out the site and read up on the concept.  When someone goes 3 for 3 in a 7 day period, he has my vote of confidence.  An added suggestion is to make a graphic 3D model of yearly earthquakes.  The model would be based on depth and location (lat / long).  You might be able to show that a sizable quake at a certain depth will set off another one at about the same depth.  For example, on December 23, 2004, there was a 8.1 North of Macquarie Island at a depth of 10 KM.  Three days later there was a 9.0 off West Coast of Northern Sumatra, also at a depth of 10 KM.   Maybe design a software program that could be used to download information about recorded quakes (location, strength, depth, etc) and automatically plot each one in 3D.  Good luck!

  2. Behavioral & Social Sciences - In the December 2003 edition of Discover, I ran across the following article by Alison McCook, entitled "Out With One Sense, In With Another" - The music of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles supports the common belief that loosing one sense can enhance another.  Italian researchers have better evidence.  They find that after only 90 minutes, blindfolded people can develop a keener sense of touch - a sign that the portion of the brain dedicated to vision can help process other senses.  Although such neurological flexibility used to be considered a feature of a developing brain, we know now that, even in adults, it is possible to find plastic interactions.  Salvatore Aglioti, a neurologist at the University of Rome La Sapienza asked 28 test subjects to place their fingers on a series of plates marked with grooves of varying sizes, with the width of the grooves equal to the distance between them.  Some of the grooves were so fine that the surface of the plate felt smooth.  After being blindfolded, however, people were able to feel grooves that were more subtle than the smallest ones that they could discern in a previous test.  Repeating the test a couple of hours after the blindfolds were removed, the subjects' sense of touch had reset to normal. - What I would suggest if you would like to tackle this idea is use a larger test group.  See if there is any sensory difference between males and females.  See if age of the test subject results in any distinct divergencies.  I am sure there are a few other angles to this idea that you can come up with, that I haven't.  Give it a try. 

  3. Medicine & Health  -  Also from the December issue of Discover, an article entitled - Forecast: A Chilly Scorcher - How Your Body Mistakes A Cold Front For a Heat Wave.  Experment 1: Find two glasses and three identical knives with metal handles.  Fill one glass with cold water and ice cubes, and place one of the knives, handle first, into it.  Next, fill the other glass with tap water that is very warm but not painfully hot.  Then dunk the remaining two knife handles into the heated water for 60 seconds.  Ask a friend to extract the knives, fit the cold handle snugly between the two warm ones, and then quickly touch the three handles to the inside of your wrist as you close your eyes.  You'll experience a burning sensation that is more intense than what would be evoked by placing the two warm handles on the same spot.  The sensory confusion, which neurologists call the thermal-grill illusion, may occur because cold objects touching the skin simultaneously stimulate both fast-conducting (A-delta type) nerve fibers that signal cold and slower (C-type) fibers that signal pain.  Fast and slow sensory nerves connect to a single place in the spinal cord, and that pain information is then passed on to the brain.  Signals from the faster, cold-transmitting fibers inhibit those spinal relays from the slower, pain-transmitting fibers.  The net result is that cold stimulus elicits cold but not pain sensations , even though some pain fibers are initially turned on.  However, two warm stimuli placed right next to a cold object can dilute the amount of cold information flowing from a patch of skin.  In Experiment 2 -  The dilution of a cold stimulus by a warm one implies that the different signals are blended over a broad patch of akin - a phenomenon known as spatial summation.  Repeat Experiment 1, but this time ask your accomplice to place the handles on your lips.  You should perceive a three-part warm-cold-warm sensation (with no pain).  That is because your lips do not lump together tactile inputs from broad swaths of skin and so can discern much finer details.  Neurologists study temperature-pain illusions because about 3 million Americans who have nerve damage from diabetes or trauma experience a disorder called neuropathic pain.  For these individuals, even a light touch or a cool breeze can produce extremely painful, burning sensations.  Research thermal-grill illusion and spatial summation.  Get some test groups - females, males - young and old.  Does the summation subside with age or physical condition?  See if other parts of the body are affected in the same way or not.  This definitely would be a unique project to enter at Region 5.

  4. Computer Sciences - Is the world really getting smaller? - Six Degrees of Separation.  I had always heard this saying but never knew what it really referred to, until I stumbled onto this site: Even though this particular site experiment is over it would make for a unique project.  It is basically an experiment to test the idea that any two people in the world can be connected via "six degrees of separation".  The objective is to get a message to a target person somewhere, by forwarding the message to a friend of yours - someone who is closer to the target than you are.  (If you happen to know the target, you could of course send it directly to them)   The should work on a state or nation wide basis.  Before the age of the Internet, conducting a project of this type would have been very difficult.  I suppose that one restriction would be that you could not actively search the Net for the individual.  You had to rely on someone you knew, and they had to rely on someone they knew, etc.  The results for the Small World project can be found here: It is an interesting concept.  Give it some thought.

  5. Medicine & Health - One of the more interesting projects that I like deals with testing subject's sense of taste.  My daughter did a project some years back that involved testing her subject's tongues with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty solutions.  She broke the result down based on gender, age, and smoking - nonsmoking.  (A lot of photos and a lot of charts and graphs)  She placed second in State competition.  It was after the project that I learned about a 5th taste - Umami.  Had she  known about these mysterious receptors, my daughter would have included it in her experiment.  After reading more about Umami, I am beginning to believe this has something to do with my great love for Chinese food.  I would suggest doing a project that includes the four senses, plus the 5th sense - Umami.  Another part of this project could include some research on the palate.  Taste buds are not only located on the tongue.  They are also found on the human palate.  I have noticed that in recent years, the taste buds on my palate have become extremely susceptible to the different tastes, even more so than the ones on my tongue.  Could it be that as a person gets older, most of the tasting occurs on the palate vs. the tongue, or is there something else going on?  We emailed Dr. Linda Bartoshuk, one of the world's foremost experts in the study of taste and the senses.  Following was her reply:  It is hard to find information about the pallet. It might help for you to have the name of the nerve that carries taste information from the pallet to the brain. It is the greater superficial petrosal nerve. If you look up that nerve, you will find information about taste.  There is information about taste on the pallet in other species and in humans. We do measures of taste on the pallet routinely in the laboratory. You might be interested to know that the tongue map in so many text books is wrong. The maps suggest that the front of the tongue tastes sweet, the back, bitter and the sides, salty and sour. Actually, this is based on a mistranslation of a German article. I love to tell people this because I am at Yale and the professor who mistranslated the article was at Harvard! Wherever there are taste buds, we taste all four tastes: sweet, salty, sour bitter. This goes for the pallet as well.  Working with, or incorporating Umami and the palate would bring the taste testing project into a whole new and unique area.  If you end up wanting to tackle something like this and would like some more pointers on how to make this a successful project, them email me and let me know.

  6. Earth & Science - One of my hobbies, ever since I was doing science projects in the 4th grade, is weather. (In particular SEVERE weather)  It is on my agenda to, some spring, take a Tornado chasing tour in Oklahoma.  But in the meantime, I monitor Nexrad Radar, via WeatherTap, in the SW Louisiana area.  Over the years I have noticed when a strong front, or area of severe thunderstorms, approaches the Lake Charles area, a great majority of the time the storm cells will either dissipate or deviate off track before striking the metropolitan area.  I have noted this most of the time when the weather is coming from the southwest.  Base reflectivity is a good monitoring point for what I am talking about.  What, in the natural landscape, or man-made landscape, might, if at all, be causing this to take place?  Does Big Lake have anything to do with this?  To do this type of research would require a long period of weather monitoring. (Over a year's period).  There are other weather services out there that are free of charge that have radar loops from which this could be studied.  (AccuWeather, Lake Charles Weather Bureau, Intellicast, etc.)  You would want to save these animated gif loops to your computer for study and comparison.  These would also be used for display data for your project.  Don't stop at just Lake Charles.  Look at loops in other major metros of the country and see if you can tell if it is happening elsewhere.   I am not saying that this always happens.  But it happens enough to throw up a red flag.  If you are a weather nut like I am, you might start watching this closely.  You might end up discovering something of meteorological importance! 

  7. Medicine & Health - This may seem like a "gross" idea for a project, but I did not find there has been that much research done on this.  You may have heard the tale that "asparagus urine" is linked to higher intelligence.  The fact is that it is the result of a simple chemical reaction.  Asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan.  Mercaptan is a sulfur-containing  organic compound with the general formula RSh, where R is any radical, especially ethyl mercaptan, C2H5SH.  It is also called thiol.  When your digestive tract breaks down this substance, by-products are released that cause the odd scent in your urine.  The process is so quick that your urine can develop the distinctive smell within 15 to 30 minutes.  But not everyone has this experience.  Your genetic makeup may determine whether your urine has the odor - or whether you can actually smell it.  Only some people appear to have the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan into its more pungent parts.  I read that a study published in the May 1989 British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that 46% of 115 people tested produced the odor in one group of British citizens, while 100% of 103 people produced  it in a group of French citizens.  Another study found that 10% of a group of 300 Israeli Jews could not detect the odor.  This may all sound scary, but  it is not bad.  On the contrary, asparagus is s powerhouse of nutrients.  Here is where the research and experimentation would come into play.  This bit of research that I located points only to nationality.  I would suggest doing testing on males vs. females, different age groups, smokers vs. non-smokers, different nationalities, average weight vs. overweight, etc.  Try to establish a pattern.  Try to identify which types of people have a genetic makeup that allows the mercaptan to break down at these accelerated rates.  One benefit is this could lead to research that would lead to developing medicine that would get into a person's system faster.  This is a project that has a lot of potential.  Generate a question form for the test subject and supply them with some asparagus.  Have them return only the questionnaire to you.    

  8. Behavioral & Social Science - In the March 2004 issue of Scientific American, I ran across an interesting concept - Perceptual-Blindness.  As related in the article - Picture yourself watching a one minute video of two teams of three players each.   One team wears white shirts and the other black shirts, and the members move around one another in a small room tossing two basketballs.  You task is to count the number of passes made by the white team - not easy given the weaving movement of the players.  Unexpectedly, after 35 seconds, a gorilla enters the room, walks directly through the farrago of bodies, thumps his chest and, nine seconds later, exits.  Would you see the gorilla?  Most of us believe we would.  In fact, 50 percent of subjects in the experiment by Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois and Christopher Chabris of Harvard, did not see the gorilla, even when asked if they noticed anything unusual.  They have a paper which can be accessed at .   These experiments reveal our perceptual vainglory, as well as fundamental misunderstanding of how the brain works.  We think of our eyes as video cameras and our brains as blank tapes to be filled with sensory inputs.  Much of what passes before our eyes may be invisible to a brain that is focused on something else.  Driving is an example.  Many accident reports include claims like, "I looked right there and never saw them."  Motorcyclists and bicyclists are often the victims in such cases.  One explanation is that car drivers expect other cars but not bikes, so even if they look right at the bike, they sometimes do not see it. I would recommend conducting testing of this nature, using homemade videos.  See if perceptual blindness is more prevalent in males or females, and old or young.  Try to find a trend that will identify who or what test group is more likely to experience this phenomenon.  Perceptual blindness, I believe, is also sometimes called Change Blindness and Inattentional Blindness Another site to check out would be -  This project would have a high probability of coming away with numerous awards if done correctly.  

  9. Environmental Science - Phytoremediation.  Phytoremediation is an innovative technology that utilizes the natural properties of plants in engineered systems to remediate hazardous waste sites.  I ran across an article recently where researchers are even trying to use this concept to remove gold particles from the ground around gold mines.  There are numerous sites with information on phytoremediation throughout the Internet.  Just route your browser to Google and do a search.  As this research is in its infancy, it would make a great project.  You might even discover something someone else has not thought of.

  10. Behavioral & Social Science - Does birth order influence personality?  I ran across this concept a while back.  It seems some believe that in families with multiple children, the order of their birth predisposes each child to a certain type personality.  If you route your browser to the following link you will see the article.    Some research indicates that a First Child is: Self-confident and a perfectionist due to the feeling that their parents watch their every move.  A Middle Child is: Social, a good negotiator, and may feel left out in the middle position with focus going to the oldest and youngest.   The Youngest Child is: Charming and may feel inferior to the older children.  There is one  more link on this aspect that might help. You could even include in your research a related possibility that birth order affects intelligence.  If you go to the following website you will get some more information with which to start.   Add this to your research - Does Birth Order and Demographics affect your personality? have not seen a project of this nature so I believe if done properly, with a lot of research using many different families, it would be a winner.  Good Luck!

  11. Medicine & Health - The following is another article written by Alison McCook.  NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Skipping a meal or two makes you more sensitive to the taste of your next sweet or salty snack, new research shows.  After a group of people went for about 15 hours without eating, they became better able to taste the miniscule amounts of sweet or salty flavors added to solutions, compared to when they tasted the same solutions on a full stomach.  In contrast, hunger had no influence on participants' abilities to detect bitter tastes, the report indicates.  "We have discovered that hunger increases sensitivity of taste to sweet and salty substances but it does not affect taste sensitivity to bitter substances," study author Dr. Yuriy Zverev told Reuters Health.  Zverev added that hungry people's taste buds may respond differently to salt, sweet and bitter because those tastes communicate different things about our food. Sweet and salty tastes are often signs that a particular food is edible, he explained, so when we are hungry, our bodies become more sensitive to what foods can fill our stomachs.  Once we are full, however, it is less important for us to be tuned into food, and we may consequently lose our sensitivity to the taste cues of what makes something edible. As he put it, "Biological significance of substances of nutritional value declines after a meal."   In contrast, a bitter tastes signals that the food is "not suitable for consumption and should be rejected," Zverev noted, and this is an important message to heed, regardless of whether or not we are hungry.  During the study, Zverev, who is based at the University of Malawi, asked 16 non-obese men to taste a number of substances that contained different concentrations of sweet, salty and bitter flavors. He measured the least amount of flavor needed for participants to correctly identify the taste when they were not hungry, and compared that to least flavored solution they could taste when hungry.  During periods of hunger, people could taste the sweet and salty flavors added to solutions that they rated as tasteless when well-fed, Zverev reports in the journal BMC Neuroscience.  Although the bodily processes that enable tasters to change their sensitivity to flavors when hungry are not clear, Zverev suggested that periods of hunger may result in changes in the taste buds themselves or the regions of the brain that process taste. SOURCE: BMC Neuroscience 2004

  12.  Medicine & Health - As I was running an errand the other day, I passed under a run of high-voltage power lines.  (The passed over the roadway)  This brought to mind past and current concerns by folks that living under or near high-voltage lines, and EMF's, can cause negative physiological effects on the human body.  I know there have been studies done on trying to tie in certain types of cancer and increased health symptoms with high-voltage equipment.  The latest information that I can find indicates that results of studies are not definitive.  What did come to mind was this.  If you are able to legally and safely access the area underneath high-voltage lines then try doing a research project that determined if underground life directly under the lines was less abundant than the same type of life 200 feet away.  I would suggest taking soil samples of various depths and distances in parallel with the lines.  See what type of animal or insect life is present.  Log down the type of size of what you found along with the depth and locations.  ( x inches, x feet from the tower, earthworms averaging 5 inches in length and 1/8 inch diameter, and any other forms of life that reside in the soil).  Then proceed out 200 feet away and repeat the process covering the same distance and depth.  One thing you would want to try to make sure is that the soil type and consistency was as much the same as possible.  Also, if you can get access to a EMF meter to take readings, that would be a plus.  You might try contacting an electrical contractor or the science department of a local college or university.  I did a quick search on the Internet for any type of studies similar to this idea and have discovered none.  Who knows, you might discover something that no one else has.

  13. Earth Science - Here is an idea that would take a good bit of data collection and research.  As many of you know, I have been a meteorology enthusiast all of my life.  When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in SE Louisiana the reported barometric pressure was 915 mb with reported sustained winds of 145 - 150 mph (Category 4)   Relating to the following Category 5 storms that made landfall on the continental US, the Great Labor Day Storm of 1935 (bp - 892 mb with estimated winds of 190 mph), Hurricane Camille 1969 (bp - 909 mb with estimated winds of 200 mph), Hurricane Andrew  1992 (bp - 922 mb with estimated winds of 160 - 165 mph).  If you drop down to Hurricane Donna in 1960 - Category 4 - the bp was at 930 mb.  Is there a direct relation between hurricane barometric pressure and its wind speed?  It is somewhat proportional?  An initial look see of data indicates to me that it is.  (So why were Katrina's winds reported to be 145 mph when the bp was at 915 mb?)  I would suggest collecting public advisory data on as many hurricanes as possible.  Chart the bp fall with the wind increase to see if the graphs are proportional.  Hurricanes advisories are issued at 6 hour intervals.  (3 hour intervals when in close proximity to the US mainland)  You might also correlate this data with how far hurricane and tropical force winds extend outward from the center in these storms.  (see if you can establish a pattern)  As I am typing this, Hurricane Rita - Category 5 - has just been reported to have sustained winds of at least 165 mph with a bp of 914 mb.  Was Katrina the storm that did not follow typical trends?  You might consider the research.  I have a few more thoughts on this so if you decide to give this a try and need some help, drop me an email.  

  14. Engineering - And again on the subject of hurricanes......Hurricane Rita struck southwest Louisiana.  It was more of a wind storm vs. a rain and storm surge system.  In addition to the many trees felled by the Category 3 hurricane, 90% of roofs lost some or most of their shingles.  I have heard different stories relating to the method of nailing down shingles.  Some say that if you use a hammer and 4 nails the shingles won't blow off.  Some say that if a roofer uses a nail gun then these staple like nails will not provide enough fastening strength to keep the shingle on during high winds.  I believe the pitch of a roof also has a lot to do with whether or not a shingle gets blown off or not.  Set up a test "roof" in your backyard using a sheet of plywood, felt paper, and some shingles.  Try the hammer and nail method as well as the nail gun method.  Also vary the pitch of your "roof".  Most old style roofs are 6 on 12.  Many of the new style homes have a 9 on 12 or even a 12 on 12 roof.  Is there a magic pitch that will resist winds best?  Do shingles put on with hammer and nails stand up better than ones using nail guns?  For WIND - use a gasoline powered leaf blower.  I have read that many of them generate winds in excess of 75 mph.  Some of the higher end blowers are suppose to move the air in excess of 150 mph.  If this information were not available with the blower, then I am sure you could contact the manufacturer.  Added note - you would have to secure the leaf blower in a controlled position - preferably parallel to the ground at a preset elevation representative of how hurricane force winds would blow.  Also remember, hurricane force winds sometimes lasts for 4 hours or longer, as they did for Rita in SWLA.  Have a gas can ready for quick refills.   If done right with much testing, (photos, video, etc.) this should be a winning project.

  15. Medicine & Health - A while back I read an article about shops in Europe that would play a high frequency sound, that only young people could hear, to keep them from loitering outside their place of business.  This sound is apparently in the 17 khz range.  As people grow older, they loose the ability to hear sounds in the high frequency range.  Well, we all know that teens are not only smart, they are very innovative.  The younger generation seized upon this sound and turned it into a ringtone.  Eureka!  Their cell phone can ring in class without the teacher hearing it.  I have tried this ringtone on co-workers and the only one that can hear it is someone in their late 20's.  A good experiment would be to test many different age groups - both male and female - to see where the break point is for this sound.  (at least 100 test subjects would be needed to give good results)  A good testing time of day would be in the morning and a quite location would be needed.  If by chance you run across someone old like me that can hear this "mystery sound", then try to get as much health information as possible. (type of work they do, if they have ever been exposed to loud noises, etc).  You may find that one gender looses that ability to hear in the high frequency range before the other.  I don't know but you may also discover that a human doesn't develop the ability to hear this sound until a certain age. (which would mean that you would have to test pre-schoolers). And then why stop at humans - extend the experimentation to animals (dogs, cats, etc.).  You might discover that this sound keeps away certain nuisance animals away from your home.  I have included download links below for this sound - both in MP3 and Wav format.  MP3 is of lower quality than wav.  If you use your cell phone for producing the sound, remember that it may not be able to generate a sound in the 17 khz range.  Using a iPod or portable MP3 player would work.  This would be a very unique project and sure to win prizes if done thoroughly and with many test subjects.  (MP3)  (WAV)

  16. Behavioral & Social - Does birth order affect personality traits?  I recently ran across an article that address this issue.  If there wasn't so much evidence out there supporting this I would have said no.  But there apparently is data that indicates there is a distinct possibility.  If you go to the following links you will get more information  - ( and (   If you wanted to get really creative and have the resources, apply this same question to dogs or cats.