If you are still struggling to motivate your child to complete this year’s science fair project – try a little “shock and awe”. Trust me, this will be the project all the science fair judges are pointing out to each other. It is another one of my original project designs (although see my inspiration below) so students relying on “they-who-must-not-be-named” (you know them, that website that comes up first in everyone’s search) doesn’t have anything like this one. At the very least, you will score points for originality:
Observation: People today seem to live longer.
Question: How have survival rates changed in the last 200 years?
Hypothesis: You have to choose and write this – it is just a prediction that answers the question (Increased? Decreased? OR Stayed the same?)
Experiment: Locate several graveyards of varying ages (or several sections of a very large cemetery). You will need 50 headstones from before 1900 (category 1), from between 1900-2000 (category 2), and from 2000 and later (category 3). In each case, you will record the birth year and death year on the headstones of the first 50 you find (make your own data sheet and bring a clipboard or record in your notebook). Also take photos for your backboard. If you want to get extra-creepy bring printer paper and crayons/pencils and make rubbings of familiar names to decorate your backboard later. NOTE: always be respectful in a cemetery
Results: Graph a survival curve for each category. Do this by putting AGE (age at death, so death year – birth year) on the x-axis and NUMBER OF PEOPLE on the y-axis. Starting with AGE = 0, How many people (out of the total of 50 per category) were still alive? It will be point (0, 50) unless you found infant gravestones. Then, in bins of 2 or 5 years (i.e. age 2, 4, 6, 8 or 5, 10, 15, 20 etc.) continue until you have accounted for the oldest person you found (point #, 0) in each category. Repeat for each section so that all three sections are represented by a line on the graph. Also calculate the average lifespan (i.e. age) in years (death year – birth year) for each category.
Conclusion: Does your data support your hypothesis?
Will this creep-out your science teacher? Do you think this relationship will hold in different parts of the country? How about in different countries? Depending on time and interest, this project could take as little as 1 weekend or as long as a year (if you travel often).
Note: this project idea was inspired by an environmental science laboratory exercise in Environmental Science: The way the world works by John P. Harley and Bernard J. Nebel.