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Students compete on national stage
Three Inuvik youths travel to P.E.I. to represent the NWT in the national science fair

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 17, 2012

Three students from Samuel Hearne Secondary School are in Charlottetown this week to participate in the 2012 Canada-wide Science Fair.

NNSL photo/graphic

Inuvik students Mikaela Cockney-MacNeil, left, Hailey Verbonac and Deanna Sonneveld are currently in Charlottetown to represent the NWT in the 2012 Canada-wide Science Fair. - Laura Busch/NNSL photo

The group of students, along with their two chaperones, left Inuvik last Friday and will return this coming weekend after their science projects are put through the wringer by national judges and measured against the country's best.

For their part, the students were excited to travel to the east coast and looking forward to being put outside of their comfort zone and being judged by experts in their fields when they spoke to Inuvik Drum while getting ready for the trip last Thursday.

The three students each chose subjects they were passionate about, which shows in their work, as they have put together three sophisticated but very different projects for consideration by the national judges.

Grade 10 student Mikaela Cockney-MacNeil took the opportunity to go outside of the subjects usually covered in high school science and focus on an area that really interests her experimental psychology.

For her project, Cockney-MacNeil designed a study to test whether or not people would second guess their episodic and semantic memory when put under pressure by an authoritative figure. In short, she tested whether certain types of people were more likely to change their answer to a memory-testing questions when the interviewer tried to sway them one way or another.

"I was sitting in a test once, and the teacher whose class I was in kept looking over my shoulder and kind of smirking at me," said Cockney-MacNeil about what gave her the idea for her project. "I didn't know if I was getting the answers right and they were pleased with me, or if they were laughing because I was failing so badly."

She knew that when her friends looked at her work and laughed or smiled, it didn't affect how sure she was of her answer.

"So, I wasn't sure if it was because it was an authority figure, or because of the type of memory I was trying to recall, or because I am a teenage girl," she said.

After conducting a two-day study of 12- to 17-year-olds in her school, Cockney-MacNeil concluded the girls she studied were less easily swayed and seemed more direct with their answers. The boys believed more of the suggested wrong answers, and were less certain of their memories.

Grade 10 student Hailey Verbonac created a sophisticated and flashy physics project that demonstrates the relationship between sound pressure and sound waves.

To do this, Verbonac created a Rubens' tube, a metal tube with holes bored at specific points. The tube is then attached to a canister of natural gas, and the gas is lit on fire. Sound is then pumped in one end of the tube, and the result is a series of flames that mirrors the shape of the sound waves inside the tube.

During the school-wide and then regional science fairs, Verbonac pumped music through her Rubens' tube. The result was basically the flames dancing along to the melody, she said.

She is upping her game for the national competition by creating standing waves stationary sound waves that will allow the sound waves to be seen more accurately in the flames.

Verbonac, who wants to eventually go into bio-chemistry, said the thing she is most looking forward to at the Canada-wide fair is the experience, seeing what other students are working on in their projects, and being exposed to the feedback of judges who work in the field of physics.

Deanna Sonneveld also based her project on a topic she loves, choosing to focus on dogs and how they see the world.

Sonneveld, who is in Grade 7, set out to study the popular misconception that dogs are colour blind after reading about scientific tests that had proven dogs eyes contain cones that let them see colour.

However, Sonneveld found out that dogs still do not see the range of colour people see.

Working with this information, Sonneveld used the youngest of her three dogs a beagle and Jack Russell terrier cross to test whether it could choose correctly between red, blue and yellow objects, using cups and construction paper that weren't easily differentiated by smell.

What she found was her dog had trouble telling apart red and blue objects, but rarely chose the yellow object by mistake.

To illustrate this in her project, Sonneveld has set up a display involving three-dimensional glasses that gives the viewer an idea of a dog's vision.

"Humans are trichromatic, they have all three colour receptors in their eyes. Dogs are dichromatic, they have two, so their colour spectrum is very different than ours."

For example, dogs have a hard time seeing green and red much like a colour-blind human.

Sonneveld is excited to see Charlottetown, where her parents went on their honeymoon, but was unsure of what to expect from the science fair.

"I've never been to anything as big as this," she said. "But, I thought if they (the other participants) can do it, why can't I?"

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