That One Time I Wasn’t Allowed in the Science Fair


I know I have some pictures from the whole project somewhere at my parents house, and the see through projector slides that I had specially made for the presentation, although…I don’t have the petri dishes anymore….well. Let’s tell the story of the time I wasn’t allowed in the high school science fair.

It was Sophomore year in high school, biology class. Part of our requirement was to make a project for the science fair that we could choose to present at the fair for bonus points, but we had to present it to the class. I loved science (at least I used to, this kind of soured things) and I was also a frequent volunteer at a nearby nature center. Every year the nature center tested the water in the creek that ran behind my childhood home for E. Coli levels. I asked if I could use their equipment to test the water myself for a dual purpose of science fair project and to give them to results as well to log. So that’s what I did.

walnut creek

creek water

My hypothesis was that there would be more E. Coli at the start of the creek, which came out of the ground near the landfill. So I went about collecting water samples from the start of the creek all the way to where it ended in Lake Erie. I almost fell in a few times, scrambled up and down cliffs to get good samples at evenly spaced intervals down the creek. Then, in my basement I smeared the water samples on the special petri dish solution that would grow the E. Coli in maroon dots. I covered all the dishes and let them fester, checking them every day to see how things were going. Once the allotted time had passed, I drew lines on the dishes, breaking them into quarters so that I could count the dots easier.

Dude. So. Much. E. Coli.

Also, my hypothesis was proved wrong. The start of the creek (by the landfill mind you) was actually the dish with the LEAST amount of E. Coli. If I remember correctly, the most E. Coli ridden dish was the water near the mouth, where it loosed into Lake Erie. Also, other colored blobs grew, which the kit told me could be horrible diseases, or benign bacteria. One or the other. Dude. I played in the water as a child ALL THE TIME. I was staring at those petri dishes wondering how I didn’t die as a child.


So. Flash forward to presentation time. I had the most intense project out of anyone in class, I GREW E. COLI IN MY BASEMENT! I MADE HARD CORE PROJECTION SLIDES! (For the above projector, if anyone remembers those) I OPENED EYES TO THE E. COLI LEVELS IN THE CREEK! I was so proud of myself. I worked SO HARD on this project. I had dropped off the petri dishes and my results to the nature center, for their records (and so they could properly dispose of everything) and I was feeling like the queen of science. Then…it happens.

The teachers tells me that I can’t present at the science fair because “the project was a little dangerous.” What? WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY? IF IT WAS DANGEROUS WHY DID YOU LET ME DO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE? Plus, if it really was “dangerous” my parents wouldn’t have let me do it. Dude, my parents were ALL ABOUT this project. They drove me all around for these samples. They helped me double count E. Coli dots to make sure I was being accurate. Hearing that it was “too dangerous” to present at the science fair was like a slap in the face to a girl trying to prove her love of science. So you’re telling me the kid with his dumb volcano statue can present, but me with my legit E. Coli poster board full of pictures and REAL FINDINGS can’t present because the project was “dangerous?” IT’S NOT LIKE I COULD LOOSE THE E. COLI ON PEOPLE!! Unless someone like, licked a petri dish. But regardless, it’s not like I had to bring in the dishes to the fair, I could have used pictures, or a not used dish to show what I used to test with.

I’m still convinced it was a cover up. They didn’t my findings to be public. Or they didn’t want me to show the honors kids up. (Academic biology student over here) Regardless, it was a huge blow to my self esteem and I really never tried that hard in a science class ever again.

So that’s my story of the time I wasn’t allowed to be in the science fair because my experiment was too real. Have you ever had a similar experience?


By Jess

A bookworm since the tender age of whenever I stopped chewing on books and started actually reading them. A cat-mom, graphic designer, and introvert originally from Pittsburgh, but now resides in the humid, hot, state of Texas. Cheers!