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School's Science Fair Is Educational

There was no model volcano erupting vinegar and soda this year. The usually wet and messy table showing how to make your own ice cream was missing, too. But there were plenty of other exhibits to enjoy in the Science Fair at California Avenue School on Thursday.

There were collections of deer antlers and sheep skulls on display, iron filings swirling in a dish under the influence of magnetism or circular magnets suspended in mid air by the same mysterious force, tin foil boats sinking under the weight of one too many pennies and cut up cardboard plates spinning in the hot air currents above a pair of lamps.

There was all the fun of the fair and a lot to learn about physics, chemistry, biology and the other natural forces that rule the earth.

"The teachers volunteer to put it on, the kids have a good time. They get to understand some science and we all do some family bonding," said teacher Jackie Withrow, who led this year's organizing committee.

Teacher Leon Bjarnason had a double show going.

He had some weighted cardboard boxes and long wooden levers with which he was demonstrating the ability of levers and fulcrums to multiply the mechanical force that can be exerted on another object. That is - the closer you place the fulcrum or pivot point to the weight, the easier it is to raise the weight provided you have a long enough lever.

"Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world," the Greek scientist Archimedes is supposed to have said.

But Bjarnason was also charming his customers with a series of tuning forks, those old-fashioned devices essential to hitting the correct first note.

Another teacher, Gloria Bracco, confided she'd accumulated her personal collection of animal skulls while attending Chico State and keeping company with an aspiring biologist on field trips. She'd eventually given up the biologist but kept the skulls.

Next door to her, teacher Kristy Santos had several children mystified by the properties of magnets. Opposite poles attract. Like poles repel. This means that circular magnets threaded onto a pencil will remain suspended in mid air if their like poles are placed next to each other but rush to stick to each other if their opposite poles are placed side by side.

In a third experiment, Dwayne Jeffries had children cutting cardboard plates into a spiral, suspending it with a string and then holding it over a lamp to send it spinning in rising heat.

The ice cream making was suspended this year, by the way, in favor of making Flubber that is based on borax and Elmer's Glue and far less messy to clean up, said Withrow.