Ice, salt and rigorous shaking can turn an ounce of nondairy creamer into a frozen treat.
"It's simple, sweet and a little silly," Garrett Seidman, a junior at the Hannah More School in Reisterstown, said as he sampled a dab of ice-solid French vanilla cream. "But I like it."
Ice cream making was among the demonstrations during the second annual Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Fair, held last week at the private school for children with autism and other emotional and learning disabilities.
Students showed their peers how detergent can make artful patterns in dye dropped into a shallow dish of milk and how, with a bit of ingenuity, ordinary household items can generate enough electricity to power a small fan.
That last experiment showed freshman Kyle Rolocut of Bel Air how tossing salt into water can create a current and "why you don't want to be on salt water in a thunder storm," he said.
They also shared conclusions drawn from weeks of research into products like hair dye and ear plugs or answered probing questions. Such as, does every single M&M have the same number of calories.
Hannah More draws students from Baltimore, its surrounding counties and Washington. About 80 of the 110 middle- and high-school students enrolled participated in the fair. They came up with their own theories and worked weeks to develop their ideas.
"Teachers built the projects into the curriculum and the kids were excited to work together," said Mike Kerins, director of education. "We were all really psyched about the fair and seeing all the experiments and research."
Some worked alone and others formed research teams. They studied the effect of sugar on memory, the potential toxicity of cleaning products or the hereditary factor in fingerprints. Noah Kirchgraber, an eighth-grader from Towson, delved into the dynamics of roller coasters. He used stiff cardboard to determine the minimum length and height required to impel marbles into a looping pattern.
"You need speed, power and about six feet of platform," said Noah, who won second place in the fair. "My hypothesis was correct and I really liked doing the entire report. I will do another project next year."
The effort has also made him eager to take a ride on a real roller coaster, he said.
Senior John Grauel of Union Bridge and freshman Jackson Element of Reisterstown planted several different vegetable seeds and then used tap water on some and gray water, retrieved from the dishwasher, on others.
"You can actually recycle water from your kitchen every day," Jackson said.
They kept a daily log in a lab book that grew to six pages of notations and found the gray-watered plants sprouted faster but tap-watered ones grew taller. The vegetables are still growing in the school greenhouse and the students, whose study took first place, hope to transplant to their home gardens at the end of the school year.
"They learned a lot from this project, especially to be precise with measurements and notes," said Craig Piette, horticulture teacher.
The science fair offered all students a look at thoughtful research on all manner of topics, Kerins said. Many took part in a survey on the exhibits. They filled out a questionnaire and added their own queries on topics that interested them most. The fair has already sparked many classroom discussions, he said.
The ice cream experiment did more than provide a treat, it offered a hands-on look at freezing point and properties of matter. It proved the most popular demonstration, but was also the most labor intensive for participants. Aaron Cain, a junior from Pasadena, dropped salt and the creamer into an 8-ounce plastic container. Then, he instructed would-be tasters to fill the container with ice, add water, attach the lid firmly and shake vigorously for at least five minutes.
"You do the work, you get the reward," Aaron said. "If you do it right, when you open the lid, you should have iced cream."
Salt lowers the freezing point of water enough to turn the liquid creamer into a solid, provided the tester maintains that temperature through consistent motion, Cain said. Nick Swartz, a sophomore from Severna Park, watched the clock and opened the confection just after five minutes.
"Yum," Swartz said. "Worth the work."