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Sweet-smelling science project wins grand prize

April 30, 2006|By ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

One whiff of funnel cakes and Cort Grubb and Mandy Chapman knew there might be a future for biodiesel.

The Musselman High School 10th-graders spent three days in November 2005 riding in circles atop a farm tractor behind Chapman's Berkeley County, W.Va., home to test a theory that an even mixture of corn oil and diesel fuel would perform better than diesel fuel alone.

Filling an extra fuel tank attached to the tractor with a half-gallon of diesel fuel, a 50/50 mixture of the fuel and oil and lastly, the oil alone, at the start of each day's trial, the students rode together on a 194-meter track to test their hypothesis.

Riding on farm equipment never smelled so good.

"It smelled like funnel cakes and doughnuts, like pastries," Grubb said.

The biodiesel, which the team mixed from a recipe in a magazine, didn't just smell better. It performed better, burning more efficiently and improving mileage on the tractor to the tune of three extra laps around the makeshift course, the students said.

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Here's what their research found: A half-gallon of biodiesel fuel burned for almost 134.56 minutes, letting the tractor run 53.42 laps. That was almost three full laps more than the diesel alone, which ran the tractor 50.48 laps in 121.74 minutes. The corn oil alone came in behind the diesel fuel, running 48.56 laps in 118.68 minutes.

Six hours might seem like a long time to spend atop a tractor for the sake of science, but the teens' experiment earned them the grand prize at the Regional Science Fair at Potomac State College in March and netted them an invitation to compete with 1,400 other finalists in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair next month in Indianapolis.

Another project that will be showcased at the weeklong fair next month was developed by Hedgesville High School student Jared McDonald.

McDonald, 17, a junior, won the grand prize at the state fair for his project, "My Feet Hurt, I Won't Squirt." That project linked the treatment of hairy wart, a virus that affects dairy cattle, with improved milk production.

As part of his experiment, McDonald demonstrated that milk production in a herd of 34 cattle infected with the virus, which also is known as Strawberry Hill and if left untreated can lead to clubfoot, increased by as much as 250 to 300 pounds daily following treatment.

McDonald is continuing to conduct trials on his remedy, which he closely guards, and is beginning a study to determine what makes certain cows susceptible to the virus.

Jared is the second McDonald to compete in the international fair. Last year, his sister, Casey, placed second in the zoology category for her work.

Chapman, who also developed a social studies report on the use of biodiesel, said the experiment she and Grubb conducted has a practical application. Increasing use of biodiesel fuels could help lessen the demand on foreign oil, reduce harmful emissions into the atmosphere and could open another market for farmers.

As part of her report, Chapman said she called six counties throughout West Virginia that use biodiesel fuel in their school buses. The results were encouraging, she said.

"They're basically all happy with using biodiesel fuel because it's easier to clean up," Chapman said.

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