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Does gum-chewing improve memory? Can milk make rust? Amateur scientists put theories to the test

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Olivia Marble
Samantha Gurski, a senior at Bangor Area High School, studied the effects of chewing gum on memory and efficiency.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — When she was in elementary school, Samantha Gurski said a teacher would give her and her classmates mint gum before a test.

“I'll never forget in fourth grade when a kid raised his hand, and he's like, ‘Miss Teacher, can we chew bubble gum instead, I don't like mint gum,’ and she goes, ‘No, Dylan, you need to chew the mint gum, because mint makes you smarter,’” Gurski said.

  • The Lehigh Valley Science & Engineering Research Fair invited sixth- through 12th-graders across the Lehigh Valley
  • The fair at Lehigh University included 125 registered projects
  • Winners will go on to attend the Delaware Valley Science Fair

She always wondered if that was true, or if maybe the act of chewing itself helped, regardless of the flavor.

Then, she found the perfect opportunity to test her hypothesis out for herself.

Gurski, a senior at Bangor Area High School, conducted an experiment on how chewing gum affects memory and concentration for the Lehigh Valley Science & Engineering Research Fair.

The fair at Lehigh University on Saturday invited students grades six through 12 from across the Lehigh Valley to present their research to a panel of judges.

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Olivia Marble
Freedom High School sophomores Emma Valish and Naydelyn Ramirez, who studied the effects of plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria on rapid radish plants.

Winners of the competition go on to attend the Delaware Valley Science Fair, then have a chance to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Dallas, Texas, in May.

The fair had 125 registered projects. Jill Forrest, Lehigh's director of academic outreach, said the participants conducted their studies over a four-month period, then created display boards to show off their research at the fair.

“These kids are doing some amazing research,” Forrest said.

About 100 volunteer judges interviewed participants and scrutinized projects. It its 32nd year, this was the first the fair was held in person since 2019.

Retired pharmaceutical scientist Elyse Turner has volunteered as a judge at the competition since 2014. She said the fair can inspire students to pursue a career in STEM.

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Olivia Marble
Judge Elyse Turner speaks with a student.

“It’s great to see students develop an interest in science, and it’s an opportunity to encourage them to continue,” Turner said.

Forrest said the winners of the competition will be announced Sunday or Monday.

Does chewing gum help you concentrate?

For Gurski’s experiment, she gave volunteers flavorless chewing gum and asked them to either chew it or keep it in their mouth without chewing. She then had them play a memory game.

Gurski found that those chewing the gum did the memory test faster than those who were not chewing it. She said the results made her “very happy” because she does not like mint gum.

“[Now] I can study chewing any kind of gum I want and not have to worry about it being mint flavored,” Gurski said.

Water quality in Upper Macungie

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Olivia Marble
Freshman at Parkland High School Aum Purani, who studied the quality of his home's tap water and which filtration methods worked best.

Parkland High School freshman Aum Purani said he read articles about how the water in the Lehigh Valley may be contaminated, and he wanted to know if the water at his house was safe to drink.

Purani sent a sample of tap water from his house to an independent lab and tested it himself with an SJ Wave water test kit.

The independent lab said the water was safe to drink, but the test kit indicated 20 milligrams of lead per liter of water.

“We can avoid fatty foods and sugary foods, but how do we avoid water? We can't say, ‘I'm not going to drink water today,’ because what's going to happen to our bodies?”
Aum Purani, freshman at Parkland High School

The Environmental Protection Agency says there should not be any amount of lead in drinking water because it can be harmful even at low exposure levels.

Purani also tested different water filtration methods and found that reverse osmosis filtration worked the best, but it was expensive.

Purani said he wants to present his research to Upper Macungie Township officials to see if there is anything the township can do to improve water quality. He said he thinks this project is important because water is essential to health.

“We can avoid fatty foods and sugary foods, but how do we avoid water?” Purani said. “We can't say, ‘I'm not going to drink water today,’ because what's going to happen to our bodies?”

Rusting nails

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Olivia Marble
Springhouse Middle School student Sofia Hameed, who tested which liquids would rust a nail the fastest.

Springhouse Middle School student Sofia Hameed’s experiment tested which liquids would rust a nail the fastest. She put nails in cups with different kinds of liquids, then watched and waited for them to rust.

“It was incredibly boring,” Hameed said. “But the results were very interesting.”

An eighth-grader, Hameed found that water took the longest to rust a nail, followed by orange juice, then Sprite, then milk. The results contradicted her hypothesis that the orange juice would rust the nail the fastest.

“I think it's OK to be wrong. Because that's how you learn, by making mistakes,” Hameed said.