Grade 5 students Lillian Zahrai and Aaliyah Mahboubi show off their medals and first-place project.

Students question life on Mars

Is there life on Mars? There could be according to Grade 5 students Lillian Zahrai and Aaliyah Manboubi.

Is there life on Mars?

There could be according to Grade 5 students Lillian Zahrai and Aaliyah Manboubi from Roosevelt Park Elementary, who were named Best in Fair at the 2014 Northwest Science Fair Extravaganza in Prince Rupert over the weekend.

Zahrai and Manboubi created “The Martian Garden: Growing Greens on Mars” that presented a way humans could inhabit the Red Planet. The students said they decided on the idea because of people’s interest in colonizing Mars.

“It’s a one way ticket, so if you’re gonna go there you’re gonna stay there,” Manboubi said.

The “Martian Garden” looked at how oxygen could be produced on Mars with a solar panel and electrolysis system. The project used a 9-Volt battery in place of a solar panel as a source of power, producing electricity to decompose water in the project’s electrolysis system made out of two bottles. The battery’s positive and negative charges meant one bottle produced oxygen gas (O2) and the other made hydrogen gas (H2).

The H2 was stored “for an energy source”, with the O2 moving through a tube to a growth chamber with alfalfa seeds in it allowing respiration, a process of burning sugar, to take place. A second chamber also had alfalfa seeds but no O2.

Then, the pair mixed baking soda and vinegar to create carbon dioxide, the main component of Mars’ atmosphere, and added them to both chambers.

“What we were trying to do is see how long the one with oxygen and the one without would survive,” said Zahrai, adding they shielded the project from light to prevent oxygen from being created in the second chamber through photosynthesis.

“The result of the project is if we can make [a similar system] on Mars, we could actually have life on Mars because we can have oxygen to breathe in and the oxygen would also help the plants grow on Mars which would give us vegetarian food,” said Manboubi.

The pair’s discovery won the fair’s top prize, as well as the gold medal in the Grade 4-5 category.

“It was amazing to win. My heart stopped,” said Zahrai, with Manboubi adding “It was my first time entering, and I couldn’t believe it.”

Other gold medal winners included Averil Cociani from Roosevelt with “Listen to your Heart” in the Kindergarten/Grade 1 category, Annunciation’s Natalie DeMille and Libby Ferlaino in the Grade 2-3 section with “The Decision Test”, Alan Phuong and Jordan Jackson from Annunciation with “Water Filtering System” in the Grade 6-7 category and homeschool student Georgina Richardson with “Hot Dog! It’s a Mummy” in the Grade 8-10 portion of the fair.

Christine Slanz, Northwest Science and Innovation Society executive director, said the group holds the annual event in Prince Rupert and other northern communities to promote science to students.