Science fairs were in full swing at the Valley's elementary schools.
Fourth grader Desiree Howell had to explain her science project, a sundial, to Bently Biofuels scientist Carlo Luri.
"When you put the sundial down outside, how did you know which way was north?" Luri asked Desiree.
"I used my dad's compass," she said. "It worked pretty good. The time on our clock was the same as the sundial."
Desiree's sundial was one of 152 projects presented at Minden Elementary School's science fair on Feb. 26.
"It's absolutely important kids learn about science," said Luri. "Doing it, not just reading about it."
Teacher Lauren Hayes has been coordinating the school's science fair for two years.
"Students gain so much from it," she said. "They are so excited and so proud of their work."
Melinda Neilander's kindergarten class did a group project.
"We measured outdoor temperatures for a week," said Neilander. "We took measurements at the same spot at the same times each day."
The students learned the fundamentals of the scientific process, experimenting in a consistent way, analyzing data and drawing conclusions. The class' initial hypothesis was right: afternoon temperatures on the playground are routinely warmer than morning temperatures.
"We know science," said 6-year-old Ismael Caldera.
Fourth-grader William Cassinos experimented with energy drinks.
"My sister is always drinking energy drinks, and my mom is always getting on her case about it," said William. "I wanted to know if they were really bad for you."
He borrowed an electocardiogram machine from his mother, a nurse at Carson Valley Medical Center. He performed two tests: one with 6 ounces of water and one with 6 ounces of an energy drink high in caffeine and sugar. He measured his normal heart rate, drank the water, exercised for three minutes, then measured how long it took for his escalated heart rate to fall back to normal. He repeated the same procedure with the energy drink.
William found that it took one minute for his heart rate to return to normal after drinking water and exercising, but took 15 minutes to return to normal after drinking an energy drink and exercising.
"The best way to increase your energy is to get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet and exercise," William concluded.
On Thursday, students at Meneley Elementary School were just as eager to share their 218 projects.
"I was sitting around the fire holding a cookie when the chocolate started melting," said third-grader Matthew Romanowitz.
This led Matthew to experiment with different kinds of chocolate, seeing which melted fastest.
"Hershey's extra dark chocolate melted faster than regular milk chocolate," said Matthew.
He concluded it was because the extra dark chocolate contained 60 percent cocoa, whereas the milk chocolate was made from cocoa butter only.
"A lot of these projects aren't just taken out of the book," said teacher Cathy Hackler, whose coordinated the event for eight years. "They're actually relevant to the students' lives. They're looking around in their environments and finding things of interest."
Fourth-grader Justin Blaha experimented with his scooter. He found the faster he went off a jump the more distance he covered.
"My grandpa drew chalk lines were I landed," said Justin. "Speed does affect the length of the jump."
Fourth-grader Ally Pope put chicken bones in three different cups, one filled with vinegar, one peroxide and one water. She left them in for five days to see which liquid would soften bone material most.
"The vinegar made the bone more pliable," she said. "I could almost tie it in a knot."
Tomas Leitenbauer, also in fourth grade, tested out different brands of paper plates.
"I tried out Dixie, Chinet and Valu-Time," he said. "I put a Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner, about a pound, on each plate."
Tomas concluded that Valu-Time paper plates buckle under weight more than Dixie or Chinet brands.
"These projects are fantastic," said Doug Dill from Douglas County Search and Rescue, one of 42 judges at Meneley. "The kids put a lot of work into these and are doing great."
About 20 finalists from the two schools will be selected to go to the regional competition in Reno this spring.