Students from Thompsonville and Cisne high schools took the top three spots at the District 5 Future Farmers of America Agriscience Fair, held Thursday, March 17, at Rend Lake College.
Eighty students from FFA chapters at nine Illinois high schools displayed 56 projects at the event, which was held in James “Hummer” Waugh Gymnasium. RLC hosted the event and provided cash prizes to the participants.
The annual fair, which began in 1999, has become more popular each year. Last year, more than 60 students displayed 49 projects.
Emily Allen of Thompsonville High School took first place overall with her project, which was aimed at determining how the diameter of a metal rod affected heat conductivity. She placed a ball of wax at one end of each of three metal rods of varying diameter and held a flame to the other end to see which ball of wax melted first. Allen hypothesized that the smallest rod would melt the wax first.
“I think the most exciting part of the project was determining that my hypothesis was wrong,” said Allen. The largest metal rod conducted the most heat.
“The best thing about it was learning something new,” she said. For taking the top spot, Allen won $50.
Taking home the second-place prize of $30 was Ethan Keyser of Cisne High School with his project, which centered on determining whether a food additive would increase the muscle mass of hogs.
Third place was awarded to Laurel Pennington, also of Cisne High School, who conducted an experiment to determine the effects of temperature on corn germination. She won $25 for her efforts.
Other high schools participating in the contest were Clay City, Egyptian (Tamms), Marion, Mt. Vernon, Eldorado, Freeburg and Waterloo.
Dean Dittmar, Field Advisor for Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education (FCAE), said the Agriscience Fair has evolved over the years to focus on the connection between agriculture and science, and the FFA and Rend Lake College continue to move in that direction.
The students took on a wide range of projects, such as determining the effect of slope on soil nutrients, transpiration in plants, how to make an electromagnet, removing rust from metal and even a study on whether or not aspirin can aid in the germination of radishes.
The projects were judged based on the knowledge students gained in the process, a scientific approach to the problem, research, thoroughness and presentation, among others.
“It’s a way of marketing,” Dittmar said of the Agriscience Fair. He said the science aspect seems to be the major factor in convincing students to take agriculture classes and become involved with the FFA.
While working on their projects, students gain a measure of real-world experience. “They gain a better understanding of what they learn in class, how all these scientific principles apply in the real world,” Dittmar said.
The Agriscience Fair also serves to introduce students to Rend Lake College, which boasts well-known and aggressive agriculture programs.