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How to get scientific equipment for science fair project?

Original post made by ER, JLS Middle School, on Aug 10, 2014

Hi,
I would like to do a science experiment on skin health. in order to take good data, I really need to get real scientific instruments. I need portable instruments so I can take a lot of data at home. Unfortunately, even the used ones are really expensive to buy. It would help if I could get an instrument called a corneometer (for measuring how dry skin is) and a TEWL meter (for measuring how much water skin loses).

Is there a way to get real scientific instruments for student projects on loan or places where I could apply for funding as a middle school student if I have a good project proposal? I can't find anything.

Some people suggested Stanford but I don't know anyone at the medical school and anyway I don't think they can loan their equipment for as long as I need even if they have it. The science fair rules this year say middle school students can't do their work at a research lab, and anyway, I need to take a lot of data for my tests so I have to do it at home.

Comments (16)

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Posted by here's an idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 11:26 am

Why don't you try and build the instruments you need? It would be very impressive even if you ended up with imperfect ones. That would be the mark of a true budding scientist.

Web Link

Web Link




 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm

The same thought (about building the instruments) occurred to me. But that's kind of like suggesting someone grind their own lenses if they want to study sunspots. I've never judged at a science fair (maybe one of these days) but I assume there's more weight given to designing a study and interpreting the data (scientific method) than would be given to engineering a tool.

This proposal brings to mind a student way back in my Cubberley days who entered a science fair with a skin resistance study using just simple ohmmeters. Don't know what he concluded, but it earned a first place and he went on to Harvey Mudd.

Unfortunately I suspect things have become so competitive today that it could be an arms race among kids to see who can get their hands on the most sophisticated instrumentation, just for intimidation potential, and possibility of snowing the judges. Hence the rule against collecting their data in a professional research lab.

Best of luck to the original poster.


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Posted by here's an idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 2:49 pm

If I was a kid, grinding a telescope mirror would be on my bucket list...

Web Link

It seems easy. Maybe in retirement.

What's the point of kids using fancy instruments to conduct investigations into science? It seems that there's much more to be gained in asking simpler questions that can be addressed with simple instruments that are within the grasp of these kids.





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Posted by ER
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Thanks Here's an Idea. This is great. I wasn't able to find the full web page for the first paper, but it did seem interesting and it was some of what I was looking for. Do you know where I could get a full length paper? I could only find an abstract and introduction.

The second web page provided is quite interesting and useful. I can use some of the ideas from their experimental procedure, but I have a question I want to answer and I need to take a lot of data in order to answer it, so it won't really be possible with this.

The information you sent is quite useful because I may be able to get people who are on a citizen science forum to help me figure out how to make my own equipment.

I wasn't expecting many people to reply, but it this is very helpful. I have heard I can use an infrared camera to show the integrity of the skin. Do you have any other links like that for how I could create instruments to measure that? Thanks a lot.


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Posted by ER's Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Thank you so much for your help, here's an idea and musical. I'm surprised — I didn't think anyone would reply to ER at all. Either of those links could be a project in itself. Either of those would be fodder for a fantastic engineering project. However, your analogy about grinding lenses for a study on sunspots is apt, musical. ER has been asking for a couple of years to do a medical science project on this subject — I think to validate personal experience — but I have talked him out of it (even though a few doctor parent friends have offered to mentor) because I didn't think it was possible to be self-directed enough with human subjects at that age. (None are researchers with access to the instruments.) This year we realized ER could do a skin experiment, which is possible to do at home without having to deal with outside human subjects. ER has come up with a series of experiments that would be new science.

I'd like to defend the idea of kids doing real science. If you doubt it, you have only to come to school or county science fairs and look at what some of these kids are doing. Or spend a morning at the Physics Show at Foothill, packed with thousands of engaged kids who are there for ... a physics show. It will restore your faith in the future of STEM in our country. In fact, I wish Google or a similar company would consider providing a forum for kids to "publish" their science fair projects afterwards. Many of them are solving problems in their own lives, or for others. I remember once being so impressed by a project done by some 8th graders at our local middle school fair and asking if I could republish it online, but the parents never contacted me and of course I couldn't put it online without permission. If kids had a place to "publish" their "poster sessions" — sometimes demonstrations of science already known, sometimes new science — it could not only be a good experience for them, it might also be great for our society. Many times when looking at fair projects, especially from high school students, I've thought, "Wow, this is really good work and should somehow be published somewhere appropriate." Sometimes even when the project isn't necessarily done very rigorously, the kids have such fresh ideas, it's really worth some kind of appropriate outlet just for the open-source contribution of ideas.

ER's last science fair project was also real science, done in our backyard, to answer his own original question out of intellectual curiosity. ER didn't come up with the project for the science fair, it was his own project first that became a science fair project. I will admit as ER's parent to suggesting the idea of the fair because it helps focus kids like this on an outcome/completion and not just process. (ER was at first resistant.) But it's been a really good experience for him. On the way home from the science fair this year, ER was already talking about more work based on judges feedback and what he had discovered. That experiment is being written up now for an adult journal article based largely on his data. It was a lot of data — I think kids are capable of repeating a lot of data for a question they are curious about because taking the data is more interesting to them than to adults (especially if something explodes or ignites, as was the case here LOL). This doesn't preclude them from doing good or new or valid science, even though they may need good mentors to interpret or offer occasional guidance.

I think it does a disservice to the kids in this area to assume their interest is in sophisticated equipment for an "arms race". The judges, by the way, are sophisticated themselves. They judge based on scientific merit. I think sometimes sophisticated equipment or projects can be held against the kids. However, I think the sponsors long ago realized that kids in this area have access to a great wealth of scientific knowledge and resources, and it would be patronizing or even discouraging to insist they don't use what they can find, so long as they acknowledge the help received. When I was their age, we weren't allowed to use calculators in school, it was considered cheating. Things have changed. Computers and the information kids have available to them have evolved. We would be silly to hold them back and not use computers, for example. My own father has said he feels his PhD thesis might be repeated today in a matter of weeks or months by a Master's student with a good computer.

Rather than telling the kids they can't be resourceful, the rules are clear that they must acknowledge all help, and fill out forms if they do work in an outside research setting. High school students especially are capable of doing high-level work in labs. During the fair, the kids present and are questioned about their work by judges in the same field -- judges can tell how well they understand.

All that aside, ER has an interest in proving or disproving something. We parents are not in the medical field and don't really have connections to help find such equipment. But doing the science fair is almost a side effect of what he wants to do, as I think it is for a lot of kids. I'm still doubtful he will find the instrumentation he seeks, since we are not in a position financially to provide it for him even as a rental. But I'm proud of him for asking and think it was worth it, if only for the information you provided, "here's an idea". I think its amazing that a young scientist can float a question like this in the broader community and get back such useful feedback.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2014 at 5:59 pm

If you go to the Santa Clara county science fair site ( www.science-fair.org ) and look under its various resources, especially the Mentor page, you may get some help.


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Posted by here's an idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 11:20 pm

ER: I am able to get the full papers by clicking on the links I provided. Not sure why you can't. Have you considered devices such as the following? Are they just complete junk?

GREENWON Portable Digital Skin Moisture Analyzer Tester Monitor
Web Link

Toworld18 Digital Precision Moisture LCD Monitor For Skin Care
Web Link


ER's Mom: I have read abstracts of science fair entries. I find it to be a humbling experience, especially having spent 5 years in grad school trying to do science with very little to show for it except of course the degree.


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Posted by here's an idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 11:46 pm

There is apparently a vast literature on using these types of instruments.

Web Link

Web Link

I am pretty sure you could get into the Stanford medical library. You won't be able to check out books, but you can look up journal articles and make copies.

Good luck on your project.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 12, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Well, I have a new appreciation for shaving after running across a Procter & Gamble (Gillette) webpage illuminating the function of corneometer and TEWL meter -- Web Link -- nice short introduction to skin structure and data presentation.

No doubt in my mind that kids can do real science. And reach advanced levels so much more easily since my era, as the internet has opened such a wealth of information at our fingertips. If I were a teacher I don't know how I would keep up with a couple dozen motivated students.

ps: that article in first link of first comment failed to display on my Mac running Safari, but was fully legible in Firefox.


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Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:03 am

Participate as a science fair judge/interviewer at middle school and you will be amazed ! (The science fair always needs volunteers, its a very rewarding experience - look up the school's website for details on volunteering)

After talking to the first two or three students, you get an idea almost immediately about the amount of work the student has put in vs. amount of work the parents have put in :) Building the instrument is a good idea , but at times it can take the focus away from the actual subject the student is trying to research/understand. However, building the instrument in itself takes an in-depth understanding of the subject matter -- both are equally valuable.

Go for it ER. The fact that you sought help, asked for resources, are attempting to figure out how to do deeper into your area of study .. in itself is a big deal. Keep up the enthusiasm - and all the best wishes !


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Posted by here's an idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Here's a way to get a TEWL measurement cheaply:

Web Link

Basically you tape a small cup with a packet of anhydrous silica (mostly non-toxic) to your skin for half an hour. Measure the weight of the packet before and after -- this might require a precise scale. And you should probably have a control packet of anhydrous silica to account for environmental factors. Such packets are commonly found in packaged foods -- dried seaweed for instance.

The capacitive sensor used by a corneometer might not be too difficult to build and calibrate either, but that would require knowledge of basic circuits. Skin resistance might be a reasonable proxy -- I think that's what the cheap moisture meters use.


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Posted by here's an idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Just a crazy thought, but capacitive sensors are all around us in the form of smart phones. The touch sensor uses projective capacitance. There might be a way to build a corneometer app. Look around someone may have already done this.


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Posted by ER
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Thank you Jane for the information on the mentors. Thank you also musical for the information provided on how the meters work. Thank you here's an idea for all the information you have provided me, especially for the cheap skin hydration meters information.

I want to take a lot of data to answer my questions so I need something portable and fast to take data and use. There is a lot of information about the expensive meters but not the cheap meters. Here's an idea What do you think about these meters? There's an iphone meter. I was wondering if it is worth the price in your opinion.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link
The article says: "Visioscan, Corneometer and Tewameter are the most widely used techniques in the characterization parameters of skin physiology, like skin hydration, transepidermal water loss and skin wrinkles. "


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ER
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2014 at 9:53 pm

All the posts have been really helpful. I was hoping for more posts like this. Thanks all. Thanks here's an idea.


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Posted by ER's Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2014 at 9:12 pm

To Here's an Idea,
I didn't want to interject again, but you had such wonderful feedback, I was also hoping to hear your opinion! (I feel like sometimes I learn more watching from the sidelines as a parent than I did in my own education.) I, too, hope you see this thread again.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 20, 2014 at 3:45 am

I don't know anything about capacitive sensors on smart phones, but "here's an idea" silica packet weight brought back distant memories of ecology field work measuring soil moisture content.

Step 1, collect soil samples into plastic baggies and bring them home.
Step 2, dump each sample into a cupcake paper on a precise scale and record weight.
Step 3, bake samples in kitchen oven at 225 F overnight.
Step 4, re-weigh and calculate differences.

Real data can be collected with simple measurement techniques.

Some in the class suggested a Step 5, add icing and feed to little brother.


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