school science fair
Around 100 students took part in this year's science fair at Buena Vista Horace Mann's school auditorium Thursday, March 16, 2023. Photo by Sam Murphy

Does the five-second rule actually work? What kind of paper airplane flies best? Does your heart rate change when you’re watching a horror movie? Does Diet Coke explode crazier than Coke?

Our city’s future thought leaders put these questions and more to the test Thursday, March 16, at Buena Vista Horace Mann’s middle-school science fair, where around 100 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders proudly presented tri-fold poster boards explaining their experiments.

(To answer your questions: No, the five second rule is “gross” — an apple slice on the ground will be covered in bacteria by the time you pick it up; the best airplane shape is “the dart,” with a narrow body and vertical wings; yes, when you are afraid your heart rate goes up; regular Coke explodes much more than Diet Coke when shaken up, and it may get all over your clothes.)

This year’s fair, organized by middle-school science teachers Perla Riva and Todd Albert, was the first since pre-pandemic times. The auditorium was buzzing with excited kids running around to each others’ experiments, and families strolling the rows. 

Leonardo, a sixth-grader, weighed two different types of wood, oak and redwood, and set them on fire to see which burned faster. “I was interested in what they would use, in case there’s a fire in the building,” he explained. Was burning things fun? “Yup,” he said, giggling. “It was fun.” 

Do boys prefer blue and girls prefer pink? “My conclusion is that gender does not affect color preference,” said Juliana, a chatty seventh-grade artist who covered her poster in pink hearts. She made the discovery after surveying classmates’ favorite colors.

This subject, said Juliana, is discussed a lot online. “There’s a lot of TikTok videos about this.” Her favorite color? Pink. 

Juliana’s mother, Hamileydi Andrade, said in Spanish that it was Juliana’s first year at the school. She’s proud of her daughter, and is happy with how much the teachers have supported her.

A couple rows over, Donovan, a sixth-grader, wanted to see what type of ball would launch farthest from a catapult. “I had a foosball, a wiffle ball and a stress ball — which got stolen,” said Donovan. The wiffle ball went farthest, to everyone’s surprise. 

Sixth grade’s “Best Overall” award-winner, Liam, was stationed next to his board by the entrance to the auditorium. He loves playing guitar and is an avid Smiths fan, which inspired his experiment. “My favorite song is ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,’” said Liam.

“I figured out the size of the hole in a guitar doesn’t really affect the decibels that come out,” he said, a discovery that changed how he plays. “It turns out most of the sound comes from the body and the neck of the guitar.”

One of the adults going board-to-board was Sebastian Beaudet, a counselor for sixth- and seventh-graders at the school’s Wellness Center. “I’m a judge; no pressure,” he laughed. “I know all these kids really well, so I keep thinking, ‘don’t hate me!’”

A couple kids barreled down the narrow row to go check out slime someone made. Rumor was spreading about the five-second rule experiment. “I’ve always wondered!” said a passing parent.

“With the whole garden thing, this year’s been eventful,” said one parent, referring to the arsenic and lead detected in the school’s garden and water in December. “I grew up in the San Francisco School District so, I’m not surprised.”

“It’s hot in here,” said another. “But you don’t see anyone drinking the tap water.” Many parents expressed that the fair was a welcome highlight for the year as mistrust for the district runs high.

In one middle row was Fernanda, a winner of seventh grade’s “Best Overall” award. “I’m not really a fan of doctors and shots,” she told Mission Local. “So I was wondering, ‘why not make all medicine pills so you can just drink it?’” 

In blood-temperature water, she dissolved liquid, and in stomach-temperature water she dissolved a pill. “The pill didn’t break down for three whole minutes,” whereas, “the liquid took 10 seconds. It actually affects your body faster.”

She was disappointed — “I really hate shots” — but says now she understands why doctors give them.

Brandon Austin, who grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore, appreciates the education at the bilingual school. His son, Mani, can speak almost fluent Spanish. 

For his experiment, Mani wanted to see how hot or cold temperatures affect batteries. Turns out — the colder, the better.

Should people start storing their phones in the freezer? “The fridge would work better, just to make sure your battery doesn’t explode on you,” is Mani’s advice.

Explosions are a strong theme in the show. “Diet Coke explodes less, and normal Coke explodes more,” said Gabriel, an eighth-grader. “I thought Diet Coke would explode more, because it has more chemicals. Normal Coke explodes a lot more, and I got it on me when I was experimenting.”

Zein, a seventh-grader whose experiment was awarded “Most Involved,” played several chord progressions for five kids and five adults, and had them rate the chords from happiest to saddest. Comparing results, Zein noticed that “adolescents are more decisive. They may have a better musical ear. A lot of the adults rated the chords ‘3,’ right in between happy and sad.”

What’s it like to be an award winner? “It feels surreal,” Zein told Mission Local. “It’s hard to describe. I’m really happy.”

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Reporter/Intern. Griffin Jones is a writer born and raised in San Francisco.

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  1. Congratulations to all the science fair participants at BVHM, and thanks ML for the article.

  2. Among the struggles there is joy. I was so charmed to hear the kids cheering for their classmates when they won.

  3. Muy bonito todo que buenos experimentos y orgullosa de mi hijo Juan maeda x ver ganado un reconocimiento