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Science fair season

03/13/2012 @ 8:02am

It’s that time of the year when high school gymnasiums are thronged with excited young people. Palms sweat, mouths go dry and a visible fog of teenaged angst and anticipation hangs in the air.                  

Yes, it’s the science fair season once again.

I was in eighth grade when my buddy Dale and I decided to participate in our school’s science fair. We were motivated by our shared thirst for scientific knowledge, but Mrs. Heemeyer was also a big factor.

Mrs. Heemeyer was our junior high science teacher. She was young and vivacious and made the pursuit of scientific knowledge seem fun. She was also incredibly attractive, no mean feat for a science teacher.

Many of the boys in eighth grade sat through Mrs. Heemeyer’s science class pretending to pay attention while thinking, “With a science teacher like this, who needs a Bunsen burner?”

So we had lots of motivation for participating in the science fair. The only thing we lacked was the slightest notion about what sort of sciencey thing we wanted to explore.

After extensive brainstorming, we came up with an excellent idea. The main thing it had going for it was a play on words.

Dale and I decided to make onion skin paper. Not paper that’s as thin as onion skin; paper that was made from actual onion skins.

The first part of our project involved acquiring a workable quantity of onion skins. The onions at our homes were summarily stripped of their translucent brown wrappings, providing us with a pitifully small amount of raw materials.

Desperate, we went to our local grocery store and asked the proprietress if we could harvest their onion skins. We were granted permission but watched closely as we skinned a hundredweight of onions. No telling what sort of mischief a pair of goofy eighth graders might instigate!

Next step was to use our onion skins to manufacture onion skin paper. We informed Mrs. Heemeyer that we required a miniature paper mill, complete with the requisite pulping equipment and chemicals and kiln. Mrs. Heemeyer regretfully informed us that the junior high science department -- the entire school, for that matter -- lacked the budget for such equipment.

As one might imagine, we were deeply disappointed. But at least we had gotten to talk to Mrs. Heemeyer.

We were left with no choice but to invent a way to manufacture the paper ourselves. After several tries and failures, we settled on a formula of chopped onion skins mixed with flour and water. This concoction was then mashed flat and baked. The result was a brownish wafer-like substance.

Rigorous scientific testing was then conducted on our creation. We checked it for such things as its moisture resistance (it turned to mush in water) and fire resistance (it burned like gunpowder). In essence, we took a worthless byproduct and, through hard work and Yankee ingenuity, created a totally worthless end product.  

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