AMES, Iowa – A clean disposable diaper can unlock the secret of water conservation. Who would have guessed? Only the hundreds of Iowa 4-H’ers who will be participating in the first National Science Experiment during National 4-H Week, Oct. 5-11.
Many of these elementary and secondary school-age students will conduct the experiment on 4-H National Youth Science Day Oct. 8, said Jay Staker, director of Iowa State University Extension Science, Engineering and Technology (E-SET) programs for Iowa youth. Others will conduct the experiment later in October or at other points during the year to encourage science exploration while promoting 4-H.
“We just received the experiment instructions from the National 4-H Council late last week, so our Iowa 4-H clubs are gathering the materials they’ll need and making arrangements to conduct the experiment,” Staker said. “Some will participate during their regular club meetings; others are arranging demonstrations at school so they can share the experiment with their classmates.”
The experiment examines the properties of water-absorbing polymers called hydrogels, a key component of disposable diapers that gives them their superabsorbency. These long chains of molecules also can be used in environmental applications such as agriculture, erosion control, soil management and environmental clean-ups. Youth of all ages will test the effectiveness of these polymers in an easy-to-administer soil and water experiment and then post their findings online at www.4-H.org.
“Iowa youth will be able to talk about their results with other budding scientists throughout the United States,” Staker said. “We also are encouraging Iowa 4-H'ers to produce 30-second videos to highlight their experiment. Videos then will be selected for posting on 4-H TV, a new Web site that allows 4-H youth to showcase their work in the form of a short video or through photos.”
Hydrogel technology has an unlimited number of agricultural and domestic applications, he noted. “For example, certain growers have learned that by adding hydrogels to the soil in the right proportions, crops easily survive on 60 to 80 percent less water. Today hydrogels are widely used in such applications as forestry, gardening and landscaping as a way to conserve water. They’re becoming common place.”
E-SET programs in 4-H often examine the science of everyday things, Staker said, and this experiment is no exception.
“The materials read like a grocery list — disposable diaper, zipper-lock bag, newspaper, plastic cup. Add scissors from the desk drawer, a measuring cup and spoons from the kitchen cabinet, and water from the tap and you’re good to go,” Staker said.
The National Science Experiment is part of a larger 4-H effort to attract 1 million new youth to 4-H science, engineering and technology programs by 2013, he continued. “4-H’s existing science curriculum combined with these new initiatives will provide youth with the technical skills they’ll need to help the United States maintain its competitive edge in the global marketplace.”
4-H is a community of 6 million young people across America learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. In Iowa, the 4-H program is a part of Iowa State University Extension and headquartered on the ISU campus in Ames. For more information about 4-H or how to get involved contact your local county office of ISU Extension.
Jay Staker, ISU Extension Science, Engineering an Technology (E-SET), (515) 294-8417, firstname.lastname@example.org
Holly Bignall, ISU Extension Science, Engineering an Technology (E-SET), (515) 294-2078, email@example.com
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, firstname.lastname@example.org