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Campus Joe

“Campus Joe” is a biweekly column from Oracle columnist Joe Polito that explores random spots on USF’s campus. How does it work? Polito throws a dart at a large map and goes there to find a story.

This week my dart landed dead center on the USF Sun Dome. Construction for the Sun Dome was completed in 1980, and since then, USF’s 10,400-seat arena has hosted many events for the University and the community.

The Hillsborough County School Board used the facility Wednesday to hold the Hillsborough County Regional Science and Engineering Fair, and more than 1,400 kids from schools across the county met to see who had the strongest science.

I arrived at the fair just as the elementary kids were leaving. A flurry of waist-high youngsters burst through the doors with their parents not far behind. I assumed these kids were so pumped because of all the science, but it may have been the abundance of sugarcoated fried dough sold at every turn inside.

At least one of these young scientists still had an experimental mindset, as he tested how long he could keep me trapped in the revolving doors at the entrance. I can’t say I shared his enthusiasm.

Inside, a multitude of tables and poster boards were set up for the junior division, which consisted of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Some of the presenters were decked out in suits and ties while giving the judges a rundown of their experiments. Others looked more relaxed, playing their Nintendo DS’s or taking short, scientific naps.

Delfin, who was at the fair being judged on his paintball experiment, and his father, Michael, explained the basis for his project.

“He’s a big paintball player so he wanted to determine if frozen paintballs fly further than non-frozen paintballs,” Michael said. “There’s always been an urban legend that if you freeze your paintballs, they’ll fly further.”

Parents sprinkled throughout the bleachers worked on laptops or snapped pictures of children presenting. Recalling science projects from my scholastic career, I remembered my parents helping me out a lot.

A mother at the event said she helped her daughter with typing and using an Excel document to construct her graph.

Her daughter Rachel’s project investigated the hidden dangers in plastic water bottles. I was surprised to learn that bottled water is federally regulated — meaning that unless these bottles cross state lines they aren’t subject to government regulations.

Downstairs, the judges — three members of USF’s Naval ROTC — deliberated over who would win in each category. They were  selecting students for special Naval awards in physics, engineering, computer science and math.

“We’re really impressed with how these students really can explain what they did and how they did it,” said Lt. Michelle Stanforth, one of the judges. “That’s what we are looking for — students who put a lot of thought into it.”

The fair spans two days and gives students — permitting grades and parental permission — a chance to miss school in the pursuit of science. Two students from the senior division will compete in an international science fair with prizes that include full-ride scholarships.

When I spoke with USF graduate Larry Plank, who is a representative of the Hillsborough County School Board, he said the Sun Dome, which also holds USF men’s and women’s basketball games, has always been a good location for the fair.

“It’s wonderful to don the gold and green and be back on campus,” he said. “We partner with USF with many things. They’ve always got something for the kids here on campus.”