When Ryan Oleszewski's parents wondered what product they should use to treat cuts and prevent infections, the Atholton High School freshman decided to answer the question in the only way he could think of: experimentation.
So Ryan and two of his classmates -- Atholton freshmen Katie McGuigan and Rhys Zeimer -- designed a series of tests on the effects of over-the-counter antibiotics and antiseptics on bacteria cultured from common areas at school and home.
The trio's research and presentation of results captured first place Friday night among high school team projects entered in the Howard County Science Fair.
"Our parents were concerned about what to use, so we thought that studying it would turn into a nice science project," said Ryan, 14, who tested the products on bacteria found on such places as door handles and water fountains. "We found that Neosporin Plus is the most effective, and that antibiotics in general were more effective than antiseptics."
The Atholton freshmen's project was one of 168 high school and 64 middle school entries in the county school system's sixth annual science competition, which was co-sponsored by Shimadzu Scientific Instruments of Columbia.
Middle and high school students studied a multitude of questions for this year's science fair, questions as varied as ways to affect the rate of plant photosynthesis, the effect of acid rain on amphibians and how to build an airplane fuselage to create more lift.
Some students, such as Centennial High School senior Sumon Nandi, worked with the assistance of area scientists to conduct research of a complexity equivalent to that of college students.
The 17-year-old's two summers' worth of work in a laboratory at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health enabled him to study whether a chemical -- called ethane 1,2-dimethanesulfonate -- damages the reproductive cells of rats.
His research, which he said will help scientists better understand the mechanism of cell death in reproductive organs, earned him the first place award for mentored biology projects at the high school level.
Other projects -- mostly those done with little or no outside assistance -- were more along the lines of "kitchen chemistry," said John Quinn, a county schools science supervisor.
For example, Oakland Mills freshmen Charis Huhta and Shannon Monahan examined the effects of different fertilizers on algae.
Using spring water and samples from Lake Elkhorn and Lake Kittamaqundi, the pair found that commercial fertilizers are toxic to plants and "good" algae but permit "bad" algae to thrive.
"We were interested in the area lakes and the pollution that seems to be hurting them, and this was an opportunity for us to study that," said Shannon, 14. The pair said their research gave them a better understanding of the dangers of using commercial fertilizers on lawns and plants.
On the middle school level, the projects tended to be simpler but no less challenging for the students.
Julie Dithurbide's interest in extrasensory perception led her to examine whether it exists. The Mayfield Woods Middle School seventh-grader tested whether people could pick the suits of randomly selected playing cards when someone else was sending mental signals with the correct answer.
Julie found that her subjects were correct 25 percent of the time -- the percentage that would occur by guessing.
Julie's project captured a blue ribbon in the middle school category.
HOWARD COUNTY SCIENCE FAIR WINNERS
Grand prize: Jin Kim, Centennial.
First place: Aaron Brown, Atholton; Kenneth Esler, Centennial; Sumon Nandi, Centennial; Guharay Sabyasachi, Wilde Lake.
Team award: Katie McGuigan, Ryan Oleszewski and Rhys Zeimer, Atholton.
Blue ribbon winners: Manan Bhatt, Atholton; Jennifer Crooks, Hammond; Rebecca Doob, Oakland Mills; Craig Floyd, Oakland Mills; Eman Kiswani, Hammond; Joe LaMonte, Atholton; Joshua Cohn, Centennial; Anthony Fleg, Atholton; Jennifer Hargett, Centennial; Jessica Howarth, Glenelg; Brian Lee, Centennial; Ammann Sidhu, Atholton; Jennifer Sigler, Centennial; Jordanna Dworkin, Atholton; Edwin Li, Centennial; James Presley, Atholton; Jonathan Edwards and Mani Mahjouri, Atholton; Nichola Carver, Oakland Mills; Chris Holt, Oakland Mills; Rebecca Ross, Oakland Mills; Morgan Schatz, Oakland Mills; Michael Schwartz, Atholton; Josh Thompson, Oakland Mills; Allyson Tufano, Oakland Mills; Carrie Wilmoth, Oakland Mills; Laura Mason and Erin Rieben, Atholton; Ryan Vaughn and Bart Zwaard, Hammond; Anju Sidhu, Betsy Spies and Laura Zimmerman, Atholton; Parker Kunci and Chanu Rhee, Atholton; Nicki Barresi and Jeffrey Hung, Atholton; Avram Polinsky, Allison Roach and Rachel Whitmore, Oakland Mills; Andrew Long, Nick Olenski and Chris Von Rinstein, Oakland Mills; Jenny Groves and Sharon Hogue, Atholton; Melissa Almquist and Meagan Funchess, Atholton; Rebecca Klein, Owen Read and Heather Surrendra, Oakland Mills; Rebecca Meyer and Jenny Pace, Atholton; Charis Huhta and Shannon Monahan, Oakland Mills; Jeff Bloom and Rich Malinowski, Atholton; Laura Askin and Caitlin Baer, Atholton; Jason Budden, Abbass Paswala and Taylor Ray, Oakland Mills; Chrissie Rochester and Kristen Sunderkirk, Oakland Mills.
National Capital Section of the Electrochemical Society Inc. Award: Eman Kiswani, Hammond.
Electrochemical Society Certificates of Excellence: Mire Talabec, Oakland Mills; Jeremy Magruden, Oakland Mills; Michael Mathews, Glenelg; Thomas Varkus, Glenelg; Ross Piasecki, Oakland Mills.
Blue Ribbons (no first place or grand prize awards were given): Andrea Boyle, Patapsco; Michelle Everett, Hammond; Annie Lam, Patapsco; Johnathan Porter, Mayfield Woods; Stephanie Seibert, Mayfield Woods; Julie Ditharbide, Mayfield Woods; Matt Caporaletti, Benn Coffman and Borna Ghaffarian, Wilde Lake; Katherine Emanuel and Angela Reske, Patapsco; Caren Bloom and Karen Wallis, Wilde Lake.