Does the full moon encourage childbirth? Is the tarantula kept warm by its hair? Can automobile headlight reflectors be converted into satellite dishes to pick up HBO?
The answer to each question is yes, according to a group of nervous-looking scientists gathered in Balboa Park Wednesday.
It was the 31st annual Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair, a gathering of aspiring scientists from schools throughout San Diego and Imperial counties to exchange ideas and to compete for scholarships.
Some stood gnawing their fingernails while others made last-minute adjustments of their displays, as science professionals inspected the 580 exhibits that filled the Federal Building.
"What is the frequency of the amplifier?" a judge asked Ariel Roacho, builder of the headlight reflector satellite dish.
Roacho, 19, stepped back and scratched his head. "You got me there," Roacho said. "I don't know, but the shows come in pretty good."
"Did you build the amplifier?" another judge asked.
Roacho explained that he had found the amplifier at a garage sale for 50 cents. The two in dark suits moved on.
Howard Weisbrod, chairman and one of the founders of the fair, said that the projects have grown more sophisticated over the years.
"In the first year (1955), there were model volcanoes, butterfly collections and other very simple, descriptive displays," Weisbrod said. "Now, the students are more investigative and original."
Weisbrod, a retired science teacher, said that the purpose of the five-day fair is to stimulate greater interest in science and to reward good projects.
A survey conducted during the 25th year of the fair showed that 70% of past participants chose careers in science, medicine or engineering, Weisbrod said. "Interestingly, many are in work related to the project they did here," he added.
Fair participants were chosen from among an estimated 15,000 people whose projects were submitted to local school fairs.
Scholarships of $2,500, offered by the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center, were awarded to Rachel Somerville, 16, of Gomper High School, for laser shape analysis of microfossils, and to Ann Wood, 14, of Alexander Bell Junior High School, for research in magnetic field navigation by mice. The two winners will be attending the International Science Fair in Puerto Rico next month. Additional awards were given by professional societies and local businesses.
Among the nervous smiles and the shifting eyes that followed the judges, there was talk about who had been admitted to Stanford and what they wanted to do after college. But some simply stood quietly by their displays.
Keith Maggert, bereft of his 13 tarantulas because fair officials would not let them in the building, stood by an empty tank and explained how he had shaved the hair on tarantulas and placed them in a tank with varying temperatures to determine if the hair acts as an insulator.
Maggert, 15, concluded that the hairless spiders preferred warmer parts of the tank than the hairy spiders.
Aspiring obstetrician Jaime Schuett, 15, of Mira Mesa, stood beside 6 months' worth of graphs showing an increase in the number of childbirths occurring during a full moon.
Nearby was Mike Buell, 18, of Fallbrook, who found it hard to leave his black fur-lined pot after everyone else had gone on a tour of the park.
The pot, sitting in a solution of alcohol and dry ice, was a cloud chamber in which he was able to create snowflakes by adding an electrical charge and a squirt of water from a sprayer bottle, he said.
"I plan to do solar research," he said, giving the chamber a zap with an electrical gun. "This is great, isn't it?"