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Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Nerd of the day:

From a great article about science fairs and their increasing competativeness / professionalism.

Chris had collected germ samples from a toilet, cultured them in petri dishes and charted the results on a four-foot-high corrugated board. It was nothing spectacular, but seemed a perfectly respectable project. Science fairs have changed, however. When Chris carried his display into the regional fair in Fort Worth last month, he knew immediately that he was out of his league. "Kids had boards that were monsters, nine feet tall, and the judges were real stuck-up," he said. One judge laughed out loud at his display. "And it was not a fun laugh. I wanted to take my board and beat him over the head."

This kid's (the nerd pictured above) project sounds awesome, though:

Hearing that the dogs used by Border Patrol agents to sniff through travelers' luggage for drugs cost $2,000 each to train, Tristan remembered that a species of cockroach he had studied in a biology class had a keen sense of smell and the ability to hiss loudly. He hypothesized that cockroaches could be trained to hiss in response to odors. If so, he reasoned, they might one day serve as a cheap alternative to drug-sniffing dogs.

His only investment was $2 for a thick felt-tipped pen with a strong odor and $30 for a mail-order brood of 20 Madagascar hissing cockroaches. He then designed an experiment that borrowed from some of Pavlov's ideas. In it, he prodded 10 cockroaches with his finger, causing them to hiss, as he held the pen close enough for them to smell its solvent. By the time the exercise had been repeated 85 times, 4 of the 10 cockroaches were routinely hissing in response to the pen's odor, even without a finger prod.

Poking cockroaches to make 'em hiss? My kind of kid.