SALT LAKE CITY — Anna Drossos took an idle question she had always wondered about and turned it into an experiment that won her the top award at the 2014 Diocesan Science Fair.
Drossos was among the almost 300 students who competed Feb. 22 in the diocesan fair, which is open to students in the Catholic middle schools. Her experiment, "How Do Different Types of Music Affect Heart Rate and Blood Pressure?," took the overall 7th-grade award, the Medical/Behavioral Science award and the Young Scientist award. She will be among the group of 45 students who will advance to the Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering Fair in mid-March. Winners from that fair move on to the national competition.
This was the first year that Drossos, a 7th-grader at J.E. Cosgriff Memorial Catholic School, competed in the fair.
"I was shocked that I won because I had not practiced as much as I thought I should have," said Drossos, who tested subjects on their reaction to five different genres of music. After taking their blood pressure and heart rate, she used graphs to present her findings.
"I had to make two graphs for each person on their different trials for all their songs, and I had to do a lot of math because I had to find the averages and everything for my percent change graph," she said.
Cosgriff math and science teacher James Larson was less surprised than Drossos that she won.
"Anna immediately honed in on her careful attention to experimental controls," Larson said, pointing out that Drossos controlled for the subjects’ age and gender, the tempo range of each piece of music, and used noise-cancelling headphones. She also controlled for her subjects’ eating, because digestion can affect the circulatory system, he said.
"Anna sort of went above and beyond the ordinary expectation for a middle school student for experimental controls, which makes her findings all the more credible," Larson said.
Another of Drossos’ strengths was her presentation skills, Larson said; she is a member of the student council and also competes in Mock Trial, both of which develop public speaking skills.
Drossos chose her experiment because "I’ve always been curious on why I feel differently when I listen to different genres of music," she said.
She hypothesized that different genres of music would have an effect on blood pressure and heart rate.
After testing 10 subjects, who listened to pop, classical, country, rock and jazz songs, Drossos concluded that pop and rock music affect heart rate the most. She was surprised to find that rock music increased heart rate but not blood pressure. She also discovered that her subjects had very different responses to jazz and country music, while classical music decreased heart rate and blood pressure the most of the five genres.
Attending the science fair was a good experience, Drossos said. "I got to meet new people."
She also enjoyed seeing the other students’ experiments. "All these different science fair projects were just really cool because everyone had their own little unique spin to it and I thought that was really nice because they did science but they made something personal about that," she said.
To prepare for the regional science fair, Drossos said she will focus a bit more on the presentation of her hypothesis and practice her oral presentation so she has better fluency.
The communications skills that students gain while preparing for the science fair are as crucial as their scientific procedures, Larson said. He encourages his students to participate in the fair because it helps them learn to hypothesize, solve problems and control variables, all of which are skills they can use in everyday life, he said. The fair also exposes them to background research and allows them to integrate math and analytical skills to interpret real data, and "that is a real critical step for young students to take," he said.