Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Fun Science Fair Project

About 2 months ago, my daughter burst through the door and announced:
"Mom, I wanna do a science fair project about bees!"
I didn't know whether to be delighted that she wanted to experiment with bees or dismayed by all the tears that would inevitably ensue due to the work involved.

Anyway, Girlie Girl had lots of ideas. However, because our weather has been very uncertain, party-pooping mom talked her out of them since they involved actual flying bees. Given that the fair was April 5th and we got snow on April 1st (and still didn't have flying bees), that probably turned out for the best. Instead, we focused on a project involving honey. (BTW, I didn't come up with this idea, but I don't remember where I saw it.)

We took 10 petri dishes filled with agar and divided them into sets of 2. Each set was swabbed with bacteria collected from some part of the house/body:
  • Mouth
  • Toilet
  • Garbage can
  • TV remote
  • Floor
We also made holes in the agar for one plate in each set. Each hole was numbered and filled with one of the following:
  • Antibacterial cream
  • Manuka honey
  • The cheapest store honey
  • Local honey 1 (fall)
  • Local honey 2 (spring)

Top row is our control so we can see whether anything in our swabs can actually grow in the agar.
The bottom row is for our test. And in case you are wondering, I decided against testing multiple batches for a statistical analysis. This is only first grade after all.

Next the dishes were placed in a warm location to grow, grow, grow. One thing that was interesting to me was that after 1 day, all the honeys had been absorbed by the agar. The antibiotic cream, though, being petroleum based was still in place. Sort of makes me wonder if that happens when you put honey on a cut, too, but anyhow...

After 3 days, we measured the clearing around each hole. Because of the irregular shape of the clearings, we took three measurements for each hole and averaged them.

Of course, there were a lot of issues with the experiment. For instance, honey and antibacterial cream are so thick and sticky that it was really hard measuring out equal amounts. Also, 6-year olds tend to get honey all over everything, which may have skewed some of the results.

However, much as my daughter hypothesized, Manuka honey performed the best. After that came Local Honey 1 (fall honey), Local Honey 2 (spring honey), and antibiotic cream in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively. Cheap plastic bear honey, as we predicted, was dead last.

It would have been cool to see if applying different honeys to an existing bacterial culture would kill it, but by Day 3, the stench of our petri dishes was vomit-inducing. (I was seriously dry-heaving while taking measurements. Not even Vicks under the nose helped. My daughter ran away.) Unable to endure the smell another day, we chucked the dishes in the garbage.

The day of the fair. There was a lot to write up, so she talked and I typed.
Very proud of all her work

Anyway, the project has gotten me thinking about fall honey and how it affects the health of winter bees that have to hold on until spring. It might also be interesting to see if different bacteria are more prevalent in spring/fall and whether honey produced at certain times of the year is more suited to staving off the germs that are circulating (or maybe germs that will be circulating during the following season when the honey will be consumed). Actually, I can think of a whole slew of follow-on experiments. It's a good thing my little scientist has 5 more years of elementary school fairs.


  1. From the picture, it looks like your toilets are pretty bacteria free! ;-) What a great project with some interesting results! Can't wait to hear about next year's project!

    1. LOL! The pic showing the toilet was from the day we set the experiment up. No, my toilet germs were NASTY. So, so, so gross. However, with definite clearings about them, both Manuka and my local honeys were pretty effective at holding them at bay. Not even a bit of clear space around the antibiotic cream or plastic bear "honey."

      Though the worst were the TV remote and floor just in terms of covering the entire plate and growing vertically as well as horizontally. I guess the takeaways from those two were 1) Wear gloves if you're going to use the remote and 2) Maybe the 3-second rule isn't such a great idea. :-)

  2. What a cool experiment! I would have liked to see the dishes on the final day, without the smells of course. It's a shame she can't do a longer term project with active bees - although perhaps in first grade that might not go as well as one might hope. Thanks for the sharing the results, and hope the judges appreciated the idea and the effort.

    1. Thanks, Erik! I thought about posting images of the dishes on Day 3, but I decided against sharing detailed results here in case someone wanted to try the experiment on their own. However, I can tell you that the floor and TV remote were NASTY. While there were definite clearings around the real honeys on Day 2, by day 3, those bacteria had completely taken over the plates -- horizontally and vertically, too. However, it would've been interesting to see what would've happened if we'd continued to apply honey.

      The mouth plate had clearings only around the manuka, fall honey, and antibacterial cream. Actually, we got very little bacterial growth on the mouth plates overall, so maybe my daughter's immune system is doing its job.

      Toilet -- There were clearings only around the real honeys. The average clearing around the manuka and fall honey was 14 mm. Spring was 11 mm.

      Garbage -- Only the Manuka honey was effective. I don't remember the exact measurements, but I recall that it was something whopping -- like over 20 mm. However, on Day 2, there were clearings around the spring and fall honeys, too, so perhaps they would have been more effective with reapplication.

      The plastic bear honey was definitely the worst. Even by Day 2 it was showing growth around the hole. Our guess is that it must have been cut with syrup of some sort.

      My girl definitely got to answer a lot of questions, but our school doesn't have any actual judging. The woman who runs it sort of subscribes to the everyone-gets-a-medal philosophy. Maybe that's ok since a lot more kids have been entering since she took over. (Less than 20 kids when my oldest was there to over a 100 entries this year.)

  3. Redaction and a unicorn. Makes one wonder.
    Really cool experiment. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Overprotective mama here blacking out baby bear's name for privacy reasons. Of course, now she can't get any cred for her work either. It's a double-edged annotation tool. Lol!

    2. Personalized unicorn shirt!! That's so awesome. 🦄 🌈 🍭


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