These questions inspired science champs. How do you match up? | Science News for Students

These questions inspired science champs. How do you match up?

Top science fair projects often turn to concepts learned in science class — or from observing nature
Mar 12, 2018 — 6:55 am EST
Paige Brown in stream
Paige Brown, pictured, used knowledge from her science class and concern for her local streams to develop her award-winning science fair project.

Prize-winning science projects can seem pretty advanced. The teens behind them might work with expensive lab equipment or satellites. But the inspiration for their research may not reflect bursts of genius. Sometimes, the first germ of an idea emerged in science class.

Maybe you’ve already learned some intriguing nugget that could propel you to your own next big science project. Take our quiz and find out!

Along the way, check out some past projects from the Regeneron Science Talent Search. This yearly competition by Society for Science & the Public is now sponsored by Regeneron — a company that develops and produces medicines for diseases such as asthma and cancer. Every year, the program brings 40 top high school scientists to Washington, D.C. They not only show off their research projects to the public, but also compete for more than $2 million in prizes. (Society for Science & the Public also publishes Science News for Students and this blog.)

CLICK HERE to take the quiz! 

Has something you’ve learned in science class made you think? Check out other stories about teens who saw problems, and came up with scientific ways to solve them. Your next science project might not be far away after all.

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Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

algae     Single-celled organisms, once considered plants (they aren’t). As aquatic organisms, they grow in water. Like green plants, they depend on sunlight to make their food.

alien     A non-native organism. (in astronomy) Life on or from a distant world.

asthma     A disease affecting the body’s airways, which are the tubes through which animals breathe. Asthma obstructs these airways through swelling, the production of too much mucus or a tightening of the tubes. As a result, the body can expand to breathe in air, but loses the ability to exhale appropriately. The most common cause of asthma is an allergy. Asthma is a leading cause of hospitalization and the top chronic disease responsible for kids missing school.

bacteria     (singular: bacterium) Single-celled organisms. These dwell nearly everywhere on Earth, from the bottom of the sea to inside other living organisms (such as plants and animals).

cancer     Any of more than 100 different diseases, each characterized by the rapid, uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. The development and growth of cancers, also known as malignancies, can lead to tumors, pain and death.

carbon     The chemical element having the atomic number 6. It is the physical basis of all life on Earth. Carbon exists freely as graphite and diamond. It is an important part of coal, limestone and petroleum, and is capable of self-bonding, chemically, to form an enormous number of chemically, biologically and commercially important molecules.

celestial object     Any naturally formed objects of substantial size in space. Examples include comets, asteroids, planets, moons, stars and galaxies.

climate     The weather conditions that typically exist in one area, in general, or over a long period.

code     (in computing) To use special language to write or revise a program that makes a computer do something.

computer program     A set of instructions that a computer uses to perform some analysis or computation. The writing of these instructions is known as computer programming.

electricity     A flow of charge, usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.

eutrophication     The process by which a body of water becomes full of nutrients, which then stimulates the excessive growth of plants and algae. When these organisms die, bacteria break them down. But this bacterial activity can temporarily use up much of the water’s dissolved oxygen. With too little oxygen, animals can suffer — even suffocate. In short order, a eutrophic ecosystem can collapse.

exoplanet     Short for extrasolar planet, it’s one that orbits a star outside our solar system.

filter     (in chemistry and environmental science) A device or system that allows some materials to pass through but not others, based on their size or some other feature.

flask     A type of container with a narrow neck. In the laboratory, sterile flasks made from glass are used for conducting chemical and biological experiments.

fossil fuel     Any fuel — such as coal, petroleum (crude oil) or natural gas — that has developed within the Earth over millions of years from the decayed remains of bacteria, plants or animals.

germ     Any one-celled microorganism, such as a bacterium or fungal species, or a virus particle. Some germs cause disease. Others can promote the health of more complex organisms, including birds and mammals. The health effects of most germs, however, remain unknown.

green     (in chemistry and environmental science) An adjective to describe products and processes that will pose little or no harm to living things or the environment.

high school     A designation for grades nine through 12 in the U.S. system of compulsory public education. High-school graduates may apply to colleges for further, advanced education.

hypersonic     Moving at more than five times the speed of sound.

impair     (n. impairment) To damage or weaken in some way.

irruption     (v: to irrupt) A sudden increase in a population. This may mean a larger number of animals in the normal range, or a population observed far away from where they are normally seen.

Jupiter     (in astronomy) The solar system’s largest planet, it has the shortest day length (10 hours). A gas giant, its low density indicates that this planet is composed of light elements, such as hydrogen and helium. This planet also releases more heat than it receives from the sun as gravity compresses its mass (and slowly shrinks the planet).

Mars     The fourth planet from the sun, just one planet out from Earth. Like Earth, it has seasons and moisture. But its diameter is only about half as big as Earth’s.

migrate     To move long distances (often across many countries) in search of a new home. (in biology) To travel from one place to another at regular times of the year to find food or more hospitable conditions (such as better weather). Species that migrate each year are referred to as being migratory.

nitrogen     A colorless, odorless and nonreactive gaseous element that forms about 78 percent of Earth's atmosphere. Its scientific symbol is N. Nitrogen is released in the form of nitrogen oxides as fossil fuels burn.

nutrient     A vitamin, mineral, fat, carbohydrate or protein that a plant, animal or other organism requires as part of its food in order to survive.

orbit     The curved path of a celestial object or spacecraft around a star, planet or moon. One complete circuit around a celestial body.

organism     Any living thing, from elephants and plants to bacteria and other types of single-celled life.

oxygen     A gas that makes up about 21 percent of Earth's atmosphere. All animals and many microorganisms need oxygen to fuel their growth (and metabolism).

phosphorus     A highly reactive, nonmetallic element occurring naturally in phosphates. Its scientific symbol is P. It is an important part of many chemicals and structures that are found in cells, such as membranes, and DNA.

planet     A celestial object that orbits a star, is big enough for gravity to have squashed it into a roundish ball and has cleared other objects out of the way in its orbital neighborhood. To accomplish the third feat, the object must be big enough to have pulled neighboring objects into the planet itself or to have slung them around the planet and off into outer space. Astronomers of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) created this three-part scientific definition of a planet in August 2006 to determine Pluto’s status. Based on that definition, IAU ruled that Pluto did not qualify. The solar system now includes eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

population     (in biology) A group of individuals from the same species that lives in the same area.

range     The full extent or distribution of something. For instance, a plant or animal’s range is the area over which it naturally exists. (in math or for measurements) The extent to which variation in values is possible. Also, the distance within which something can be reached or perceived.

runoff     The rainwater that runs off of land into rivers, lakes and the seas. As that water travels through soils, it picks up bits of dirt and chemicals that it will later deposit as pollutants in streams, lakes and seas.

satellite     A moon orbiting a planet or a vehicle or other manufactured object that orbits some celestial body in space.

Science Talent Search     An annual competition created and run by Society for Science & the Public. Begun in 1942, this event brings 40 research-oriented high school seniors to Washington, D.C. each year to showcase their research to the public and to compete for awards. Since spring 2016, this competition has been sponsored by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

smartphone     A cell (or mobile) phone that can perform a host of functions, including search for information on the internet.

Society for Science and the Public  A nonprofit organization created in 1921 and based in Washington, D.C. Since its founding, SSP has been not only promoting public engagement in scientific research but also the public understanding of science. It created and continues to run three renowned science competitions: the Regeneron Science Talent Search (begun in 1942), the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (initially launched in 1950) and Broadcom MASTERS (created in 2010). SSP also publishes award-winning journalism: in Science News (launched in 1922) and Science News for Students (created in 2003). Those magazines also host a series of blogs (including Eureka! Lab).

species     A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

star     The basic building block from which galaxies are made. Stars develop when gravity compacts clouds of gas. When they become dense enough to sustain nuclear-fusion reactions, stars will emit light and sometimes other forms of electromagnetic radiation. The sun is our closest star.

sun     The star at the center of Earth’s solar system. It’s an average size star about 26,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Also a term for any sunlike star.

telescope     Usually a light-collecting instrument that makes distant objects appear nearer through the use of lenses or a combination of curved mirrors and lenses. Some, however, collect radio emissions (energy from a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum) through a network of antennas.