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Colby-Jack cheese molds the fastest, baking soda affects the height of chocolate chip cookies, and even the most accomplished of dancers have trouble balancing if they can’t see.

These were some of the many conclusions local eighth and ninth grade students made at the Nebraska Area Health Education Centers science meet on Tuesday.

Alex Greiner, a student at Johnson-Brock Public School, decided to his project on what type of cheese would mold fastest because his family uses a lot of cheese products.

“My three different types of cheese were mozzarella, Colby-Jack and cheddar,” Greiner said. “My hypothesis was that if cheddar was left out it would grow mold the fastest. I also wanted to see if the surface area of the cheese causes it to grow mold faster, so I cut it into smaller blocks. You’d use this in real life if you were a consumer who wanted cheese and were only going to use half the pack. It’s important to know how long you have until the rest goes bad and you lose your money.

"My hypothesis was rejected. Cheddar cheese did not mold the fastest, it was actually the Colby-Jack cheese with an average of 21 days. The slowest molding cheese was the mozzarella cheese cubes which molded on an average of 25.2 days.”

Ava Chmelka, a student at North American Martyrs School, said she chose to focus her project on dance, since she’s been taking lessons since she was three years old.

Chmelka’s project studied how long a dancer could balance on one foot while being able to see, compared to when they were blindfolded. No matter how long they could balance while seeing, they only lasted a few seconds with a blindfold on.

“They could not balance that long with the blindfold on, and I think that’s because they couldn’t look at a focal point,” Chmelka said.

The science meet was held at Southeast Community College in Beatrice, with four similar meets happening across Nebraska. Each project was scored twice by judges, and an indeterminate number of students will be selected to go to a state science experience at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha from June 6-8.

“We’ve seen a lot of really good projects this time around,” Carmen Chinchilla, the southeast Nebraska AHEC program director, said. “There are definitely a lot of contenders for the state science meet at this time, so it will be really exciting to see how many of these kids get to go.”

Chinchilla said the state science experience is a chance for students to participate in real world science lessons.

“The whole experience is just a learning experience with hands-on chemistry, biology, they get to dissect things, they get to speak with physicians, chemists, biologists, and then at the end there’s always a fun trip to the zoo,” Chinchilla said. “It’s really just a fun experience.”

Chinchilla said although they invited ninth graders, the AHEC’s target age group is eighth graders.

“Studies have shown that eighth grade is usually, at least for girls, when they start to either stay on track with the sciences versus getting discouraged either by society, social pressures from their classmates or just the standard ‘usually men go into hard sciences’ mentality,” Chinchilla said.  “It’s a great way to encourage them to pursue their dreams in the STEM careers.”

Chinchilla said they also focus on eighth grade to help students decide what classes they want to take in high school.

“If they’re going to go through a college career track or decide on something else, it’s a great way for them just to explore the available opportunities for them,” Chinchilla said. “It’s a great jumping off point, where if they decide ‘I really do like science. I never thought that I would,’ it gives them that opportunity to start high school in a way that leads them toward a health/science career.”

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