From moldy strawberries to three-in-one shoes and even an electric car, students who participated in an annual science expo in South Elgin on Saturday said it's just as much fun to take part as it is to check out other people's projects.
The fourth annual Discovery STEM Exposition included more than 1,000 students from Elgin Area U-46 School District and the Gail Borden Public Library District. Hundreds of projects were on display at the expo, whose acronym stands for "science, technology, engineering and math."
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Matthew Motarjeme, a fifth-grader at Horizon Elementary School in Hanover Park, studied the effects of hot water on strawberries. Though examining the mold was kind of gross, the experiment itself was cool, he said.
"You get to do science, which I think is really fun, and it's fun to tell people what you did," he said.
Matthew's classmate Brian Hodge said he loved taking part in the expo. "It's just really cool to see all of the other projects and what the other people did."
By far the most attention-grabbing project was an electric car built by a group of students from Bartlett High School.
The car's inaugural spin -- which was recorded on smartphones by parents and students -- was temporarily halted by a loose U-bolt. The car is outfitted with electric bike wheels -- wheels with electric motors attached to them.
"We started constructing it in March, but it's a yearlong project. We started researching it in October," said Brandon Sowinski, a senior at Bartlett High.
The projects' results sometimes end up changing students' habits.
That's what happened to Mariet Pitones, a senior at South Elgin High School, who worked with classmate Jorge Michel to study which cleaning agent -- antibacterial hand soap, Clorox wipes, antibacterial hand lotion, rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer -- killed the most bacteria.
The hand soap won, Mariet said.
"I'm a CNA (certified nursing assistant) and you get so busy, sometimes you just use (hand sanitizer)," she said. "Now I'm just like, 'I need to wash my hands.'"
Audrey Hartnett, a dancer who is a seventh-grader at Eastview Middle School in Bartlett, said her research project on the health effects of contortion made her aware that she needs to have enough space to stretch.
Audrey's younger siblings, second-grader Shannon and fifth-grader Liam, also did their own projects for the fair.
In some cases, the projects might lead to real-world applications -- at least, that's what Bartlett High juniors Vishal Dave, Sean Ireland and Hector Orellana hope will happen to their three-in-one shoe. Their all-purpose shoe combines a winter boot, sneaker and dress shoe with removable parts.
The three built a makeshift prototype using materials available to them -- think pleather from a fabric store -- but really hope to attract a manufacturer's attention, they said.
"We feel motivated to keep working on it," Vishal said.