9th-grade potato expert hopes judges can dig his entry

April 17, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Forget pure science.

Ninth-grader Lando Wright, from Northern High School, had a more down-to-earth reason for his entry in this year's Morgan State University Science-Mathematics Fair.

"Potatoes. I believe they rot too fast," said Lando, whose entry is one of 146 exhibits in competition at the two-day event, which concludes tonight. "Every time I get potatoes, they seem to go bad."

But, instead of just scrapping the spoiled spuds, the budding biologist saw the chance for a practical experiment in microbiology.

Over a period of weeks, he painstakingly tested the relative fertility of red, white and sweet potatoes as a growth medium for potato-rotting bacteria. (Conclusion: Sweet potatoes rot fastest.)

Curiosity twinned with the scientific method -- those traits were on display on exhibit tables throughout Morgan State's Hill Field House in an event aimed at encouraging math and science studies among minorities. Though the number of entries was down from 180 last year, this year's fair boasted more middle and high school students than did last month's 38th annual Baltimore Science Fair at Towson State University, which drew just over 100 entries.

And for the first time, the Morgan science fair this year is affiliated with the International Science and Engineering Fair, sanctioned by nonprofit Science Service Inc. That means today's two top winners will compete with other students at a nationwide event in Mississippi Beach, Miss., later this year.

Organizers credit the Morgan event's growth to close cooperation between the university and local schools, and aggressive work by Morgan professors, many of whom opened their labs and offices to students preparing for the fair.

All too often, minority students see little career future for themselves in math, science and technology, said Dr. Russell Kelley, a Morgan biology professor who chaired the science fair. That perception has some basis in reality, he noted. Nationally, African-Americans and other minorities are dramatically underrepresented in the sciences, accounting for less than 6 percent of all college math and science graduates.

"We are trying to give them the idea that they can also be successful in the areas of math and science," said Dr. Kelley.

Morgan educators also are planning to follow up this summer with a two-week science and math workshop, giving students a further taste of the campus research experience.

"They're really hungry for some support, some recognition," said Dr. Anasuya Swamy, director of the Center for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education, which co-sponsored the science fair, along with Martin Marietta Corp. and the Center for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education.

The science fair exhibits are open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. today at Hill Field House at Morgan State University.

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